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Sami association wins hunting rights battle in Sweden

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Stockholm (AFP)

Sweden's top court on Thursday granted a Sami association in the far north the right to regulate local hunting and fishing activities, scoring a legal precedent in favour of the country's indigenous community.

The Supreme Court granted the Girjas Sami association the "exclusive right" to administer hunting and fishing privileges on its traditional lands, stressing that the state, which owns the land, did not have this right.

The court cited the association's right by tradition "from time immemorial," meaning the association had proven it had used the lands for centuries.

In the ruling, which was met by applause from representatives of the minority group dressed in traditional colourful garb, the court said the right extended to the association's entire area, with the exception of arable land, and that it could henceforth be exercised "without the state's approval."

The verdict had been greatly anticipated.

The case has spanned over a decade, starting in 2009 when the Girjas Sami sued the Swedish state for the rights.

Sami associations are financial and administrative unions representing Sami people in different regions.

Girjas' territory covers some 5,500 square kilometres (2,100 square miles) around the northern towns of Kiruna and Gallivare, and their legal battle has been supported by the Swedish Sami Federation (SSR).

The Sami association challenged a 1993 reform that allowed other hunters and fishermen the right to hunt small game and fish on the territory, under the administration of the state, which has owned the land since the end of the 19th century.

Judge Anders Eka, who presided over the case, stressed that the immediate consequences of the ruling only concerned Girjas, but added that since the court's decisions were prejudicial the arguments considered could be raised in other cases where the interests of Sami associations and the state clashed.

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