Tanzania president vows never to expel Maasai

Dar es Salaam (AFP) - Tanzania's president has vowed never to evict the Maasai people from their traditional lands, which activists claimed were threatened by plans for a hunting reserve for the wealthy.

"There has never been, nor will there ever be any plan by the government of Tanzania to evict the Maasai people from their ancestral land," President Jakaya Kikwete said in a message on Twitter on Sunday.

Tanzania last week dismissed as false the claims by global activist group Avaaz it had ambitions to turn 1,500 square kilometres (580 square miles) of land in the Loliondo district into a hunting reserve for a company catering to the royal family of the United Arab Emirates.

Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Lazaro Nyalandu said the "government has no such plans and never entertained the idea of evicting the Maasai."

Avaaz, which launched an online petition against the alleged plans that has collected 2.3 million signatures, claimed Maasai community leaders had been told they would be offered one billion Tanzania shillings (about 466,200 euros, $578,000) for their lands, about 12 euros ($15) each for 40,000 of them to leave.

Avaaz welcomed the promise by Tanzania.

"This is a massive breakthrough," Avaaz campaign director Sam Barratt said.

"For the first time in 20 years, a Tanzanian president has definitively said the Maasai are safe on their land. Over two million people around the world have stood arm in arm with the Maasai to keep foreign hunters at bay."

The land borders the Serengeti national park, where animals cross into neighbouring Kenya's Maasai Mara park following seasonal grazing.

The government scrapped plans for a hunting park in Loliondo last year.