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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, May 18) – The King of Wallis, known as the "Lavelua," is still in place in the remote French Pacific territory, where rival chiefly and royal families had attempted to topple him in the equivalent of a motion of no confidence.

At the weekend, the three royal families of Wallis and Futuna, representing the three chiefly confederations, had held protracted meetings in a bid to stop the escalation and to preserve normal relations France.

The three royal Houses are reported to have finally ruled in favour of French rule of law and were attempting to move to oust the Lavelua, on the basis that he had "lost the confidence of his subjects".

On Wednesday, the King was still in place and a number of meetings, organised by rival chiefly clans, were taking place in several parts of Wallis Island.

A so-called citizens defence association, mainly consisting of royal families opposed to the King and his chiefly clan of Wallis, was to hold a public meeting in front of the territorial legislative assembly.

Another meeting was also to take place Wednesday, this time in support of the King, in the tiny village of Mua.

And yet another meeting was also planned to gather all families and clans belonging to the King's confederacy, RFO-Wallis reports.

The tension follows a confrontational escalation between the 86-year-old Lavelua, Tomasi Kulimoetoke, his close chiefly and family allies, and French administrative and judicial authorities.

The differences arose from a recent trial of the King's grandson (son of the King's daughter), who ran over and killed a man as he was driving his vehicle under the influence of alcohol on New Year's Day.

The local French magistrate's Court found him guilty of unintentional homicide.

But the King and the chiefly clan he heads on Wallis had refused the court decision, saying the King had already settled the matter in a traditional manner.

Since then, French authorities had tried, in vain, to enforce the court decision: the King's grandson has taken refuge in the Royal Palace.

They also demanded that the King's grandson be handed over to the French justice so he could begin serving his 18-month jail sentence.

The confrontation culminated on Friday last week, during a meeting of the Great Assembly, an equivalent to the King's council of ministers.

Chief minister Kapeliele Faupala (the "Kivalu") had then publicly asked Xavier de Fürst, the French administrator (who rules the French Pacific territory, jointly with the King) and Francis Alary, the local French chief justice to leave the islands.

"Since you don't want to revise your position, today, I ask you to leave the territory", he had said.

De Furst responded that the king must respect the rule of law.

"It should be noted that no one is above the law," de Furst said. "In this matter, a man has died and a wife and children are since missing a husband and a father. It seems elementary to me that in matters of this nature, the rule of law should be enforced. I am sure that Lavelua himself does not wish to condone a homicide, but that unfortunately, he is taken hostage by a certain number of people who are using him."

An angry French justice Alary said, "As a French citizen, I'm suggesting something very simple: if some want to change the status of this territory, let us organise a referendum on independence, right now. If the Wallisians want to be independent and want us to leave, as the Kivalu has asked us to pack our suitcase, this is not a problem, we shall leave."

Earlier this week, French authorities, meanwhile, have notified the Lavelua and members of his chiefly clan in the local assembly that they would no longer receive their MP's sitting allowance.

86-year-old Lavelua, Tomasi Kulimoetoke, has been in power in Wallis since 1959.

In 1961, he signed an agreement with France to reinforce its links with the metropolitan power and make Wallis and Futuna islands a fully-fledged French overseas territory.

But these islands, located Northeast of Fiji, still retained a "special" status, under the new deal: they are jointly ruled by a French "Superior Administrator" (de facto a Prefect) and the three Kings.

The three kings are the Lavelua of Wallis (Uvea) and, for Futuna, the two other kings are the Tuisigave (for Sigave) and the Tuigaifo (for Alo).

Wallis and Futuna Islands have a total population of around 15,000.

May 19, 2005

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