Scores of homes near the Vanuatu capital which were deemed illegal dwellings were destroyed on Tuesday following a court-ordered eviction.
Residents have told media they burned their own homes down rather than allow the police to do so.
The sheriff of the court, who was with the police to enforce the eviction order, said over 400 people were forced to move from the area, about 10 minutes drive from the capital Port Vila, because they were illegally squatting.
The Sheriff said they were ordered by the court to vacate the area in May 2021 but they didn't follow the order, and therefore police had to use two 5-ton loaders to destroy the homes and fruit trees.
A mother said she did not want to see her home destroyed by the heavy machines so she burnt it down.
She said they also destroyed their church house for the same reason.
Long-standing relationship turned on its head
Another squatter, Mary Maung, told media she was the first to settle in the land after she was given permission from the paramount chief of Mele, Chief Momo Masai.
She said she gave food to Chief Masai each year for allowing her to live on his land.
Maung said the relationship changed under the new chief, Simeon Poilapa.
She said she and three other mothers had already deposited 100,000 vatu to buy the land where she built her home to Dataka Holding Ltd which is owned by Chief Poilapa.
The Vanuatu Lands Department said the area was already subdivided but the squatters went in and settled there illegally.
Some of the displaced residents have moved in with relatives in Mele, Teouma, Erakor and other parts of Efate.