PAPEETE PORT BLOCKED BY DISSIDENT GROUP AGAIN

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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Oceania Flash, April 1) –An estimated fifty members of French Polynesia's controversial « GIP » intervention group has on Friday (Thursday Tahiti time, GMT-10) resumed a blockade of the capital Pape'ete's main wharf, saying the terms of a memorandum of understanding reached at the weekend has not been respected.

Last week, the GIP, using forklifts and other machinery, had already blocked access to the main wharf in Pape'ete.

The disgruntled group (which is only part of an overall twelve hundred staff) was contesting the appointment of Robert Maker at the helm of the GIP, to replace Léonard « Rere » Puputauki.

After protracted talks with the disgruntled men's leader, French Polynesia's newly-elected President Oscar Temaru had reached an agreement, based on a compromise: that Maker would not, after all, be appointed GIP head, but instead would simply remain Temaru's special adviser.

Puputauki was promised another job in French Polynesia's public service.

Another concession was to make all GIP staff eligible for the minimum wage (125,000 French Pacific Francs, around 1,350 US dollars).

Since Thursday evening, however, the blockade has resumed, only three days after it seemed to have been settled.

This time, picketers say Temaru did not respect the agreement struck a few days ago, since a cabinet meeting on Thursday moved to appoint a Marcel Ahini as interim chief of the GIP.

The disgruntled GIP say he should only have been appointed GIP interim administrator and that a pro-Puputauki man, Yannick Boosie, should have become the new GIP boss.

Temaru, in response, issued a communiqué on Friday, saying Ahini's job title had to follow the local public service nomenclature.

Another recent move by Temaru's new government, this week, was also in direct relation to the GIP: Temaru, through his lawyer Stanley Cross (who is also a prominent anti-nuclear and human rights activist) has on Thursday launched legal proceedings against the GIP, in relation to a current police investigation on the existence of an alleged intelligence unit within the controversial group.

Temaru's complaint, Cross said, is making references to « breaches of privacy » he would have been the victim of, from the alleged « spy unit » which, he also alleges, is « directly linked to Mr Flosse », the daily newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti reported.The GIP is currently undergoing a low-key police investigation, especially on its alleged intelligence unit.

This follows oral evidence given late last year by the son of one of its former members, who openly admitted that a French journalist, Jean-Pascal Couraud, who once headed the local daily La Dépêche de Tahiti, would have been physically eliminated by GIP members because of its outspoken stance against the Flosse-led government of the time.

Couraud has been missing since December, 1997.

But the allegations have since been withdrawn.

The official lead, to date, is that he would have « committed suicide ».

According to French national newspaper Libération, French gendarmes in Pape'ete have now acted on a court warrant and formed an investigation unit dedicated to the GIP and its ramifications.

Nicknamed « JPK 987 », the unit was formally set up on January 17, the paper says.

The GIP was initially set up with the open mission of providing help to populations stricken by natural disasters, both in French Polynesia and in the past few years to South Pacific Islands States such as Fiji, Tonga, Niue.

Early recommendations from the French gendarmes include that all of the GIP's activities be reviewed and assessed, including what was officially termed the « manifest cell », to describe the GIP's intelligence unit .

« Investigations carried out ... through evidence provided by witnesses who have worked in the 'manifest cell ' point to the existence of an intelligence unit located within the GIP premises », Libération quoted initial police report abstracts.

The bridge, which leads to Pape'ete's main wharf, effectively bars access to strategic fuel reserves belonging to key oil companies.

As was the case last week, during the first blockades, queues have started to form at petrol service stations, by motorists concerned at a possible shortage, if the blockade were to persist.

French Polynesia's Vice-President, Jacqui Drollet, said once again he preferred a conciliatory approach to the conflict and was open to talks with the disgruntled GIP men.

He said some issues on « the interpretation of wording » had once again to be clarified.

« But this is really beginning to be tiresome, everyone here is tired of this », Drollet told local media.

Drollet also stressed that it was the French State's duty, which is responsible for law and order, to ensure that « freedom of circulation of goods and persons » was upheld.

During the first confrontation, the French minister for Overseas territories, Brigitte Girardin, had labelled the conflict « an internal matter within French Polynesia's administration ».

« They tell us this is an internal affair between our local government and one of its services, but a whole section of the economy is blocked. I think the French High Commissioner and the French State should react, but so far, they haven't done so », Drollet said in Friday, adding the fresh GIP protest was « under Puputauki's orders » and was aimed at engaging a « confrontation against the legitimately elected government ».

The GIP's action coincides with the current visit in French Polynesia of New Zealand's foreign affairs minister Phil Goff, who is leading a high-powered, 75-strong trade, educational, cultural delegation in the French Pacific country as part of a tour of the French Pacific dependencies this week.

Former President of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse, who was ousted in a motion of no confidence last month, earlier this week denied having any contact with the GIP in the past few days.

The GIP was set up by Flosse, during his long rule of French Polynesia, in the second half of the 1990s.

April 1, 2005

Oceania Flash: http://newspad-pacific.info/ 

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