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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (August 9, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---The regional Agence Française de Développement (AFD) office, which has been based in Vanuatu’s capital of Port Vila for the past eight years, will be relocated to New Caledonia in "early 2002," its Nouméa general manager Joël Daligault confirmed.

The Port Vila office channels French aid to most southwest Pacific island countries and territories.

It was officially opened in 1993, during the government of then Vanuatu Prime Minister Maxime Carlot Korman.

In an interview with Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes newspaper, Daligault said, "In 1999, the French government created a so-called 'priority solidarity zone,' which aimed at concentrating French development aid.

"Our earlier responsibility, which was covering all of the Pacific states, is now limited to Vanuatu only.

"The question came up about our Port Vila regional agency.

"Our monitoring committee decided to close it down in early 2002 and to transform our Nouméa agency into a regional one.

"Effectively, this will not change anything for Vanuatu, only all operations will be dealt with and processed from Nouméa.

Daligault strongly responded to current rumors in New Caledonia that AFD would also withdraw from the French territory.

"I can only categorically refute any withdrawal from New Caledonia. On the other hand, I can confirm that a review over a ten-year period is currently under way, regarding all of our banking subsidiaries in all (French overseas departments and territories).

"The review started in January 2000.

"New Caledonia has been informed. When the time comes, we will discuss it with local authorities. But we're not there yet."

In New Caledonia, AFD funded a total of 9.7 billion French Pacific Francs (about US$ 75 million) worth of projects last year, mostly in the field of infrastructure development.

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