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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (July 31, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---Wallis and Futuna has been celebrating its fortieth anniversary as a French overseas territory, RFO reports.

Celebrations have taken place not only in Wallis and Futuna, but also in New Caledonia, home to about 20,000 Wallisians and Futunians (as opposed to only around 15,000 in their islands of origin).

The celebrations mark promulgation on July 29, 1961 of a French Parliament act that officially gave Wallis and Futuna (northeast of the Fiji islands) French territorial status.

In the Wallis and Futuna capital, Matu Utu, celebrations were oriented around a religious mass, the raising of the French flag and custom ceremonies.

Similar celebrations also took place in Nouméa, where a whole week of celebrations was organized by the Wallisian and Futunian resident community.

The formal celebrations ended on Monday with a traditional kava ceremony and feast.

About 1,100 people are reported to have attended, which was marked by dances, basket weaving, competitions and a profuse amount of pigs.

Nouméa-based Wallisian youth association officials said the celebrations provided an opportunity to help young Wallisians discover their culture and traditions.

Wallis and Futuna is currently lobbying French officials to take into account the Nouméa Accord, which provides for increased autonomy for New Caledonia.

Under the pact, New Caledonian locals (and future citizens) are to be given priority for employment. Wallis and Futuna's officials have been pleading for the past two years for special provisions to be made for their people to also receive priority under the accord.

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