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MATA‘UTU,Wallis (Oceania Flash, Dec. 23) - French Minister Brigitte Girardin has signed a "Sustainable Development Agreement" with its most remote territory, promising EUR25 million in economic aid to Wallis and Futuna over the next five years.

Girardin, Minister for Overseas Territories, flew to Wallis and Futuna, a group of Polynesian islands Northeast of Fiji.

She was welcomed by lavish traditional ceremonies, kava drinking, dances and singing in the French territory that is also home to three kingdoms.

According to French overseas television network RFO, Girardin advocated sustainable development and stressed the importance of foundation and vocational training for the young generations in order to "break the isolation."

Another 2.5 million Euros would also be dedicated to identifying and promoting new economic sectors.

The new French aid would also help build up more infrastructure, including air links and telecommunications.

The hope, Girardin said, was to turn Wallis and Futuna's economy, which still heavily relies on French aid and self-subsistence, into a more extrovert economy.

Another sensitive matter discussed was the issue of immigration and residence in New Caledonia, on which Wallis and Futuna still relies on several administrative matters.

New Caledonia is also home to some twenty thousand Wallisians and Futunians (which is more than the population living in Wallis -around fifteen thousand-).

Under the autonomy Nouméa accord signed between New Caledonia's main parties and France, special provisions are identified for the specific case of Wallis and Futuna.

They however remain to be drawn out.

For the most of this year, ethnic tensions between indigenous Kanaks and Wallisians in the suburban settlement of Saint Louis, near Nouméa have claimed three lives.

Kanaks are demanding that 23 hectares of land where a Catholic mission was built in the 1960s be returned to them.

All confronting parties have recently agreed that a re-settlement procedure was to be implemented for the remaining Wallisian families in Saint Louis.

December 23, 2002

Oceania Flash/SPC

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