Aborigines Win Landmark Case

DARWIN, Australia -- Aborigines won traditional ownership rights over a large stretch of coastline in northern Australia on Wednesday, in a landmark ruling lawyers said could set a precedent in other parts of the country.

The High Court ruling most directly affects fishermen on beaches and tidal rivers in an area of 90,000 square kilometer in the Northern Territory that was subject to the claim.

"It is a landmark victory for traditional owners, and we have waited for over 30 years for our sea rights to be legally recognized," said Wali Wunungmurra, the chairman of the Northern Land Council.

Wunungmurra said the traditional owners had no desire to stop commercial and recreational fishing in the region, but said a permit system was likely.

Australia's first inhabitants have battled in the courts to restore their land rights for decades, and the pace picked up in the 1990s after the High Court overturned the assumption that Aborigines held no land rights when white settlers arrived in 1788.