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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Sept. 15) – A group of high chiefs in the French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna have announced plans to install a new king on September 25, to replace embattled 87-year-old "Lavelua" Tomasi Kulimoetoke.

In the Northern district of Wallis, Hi'hifo, earlier this week, what was regarded as a preliminary step to the announced move took place.

During a traditional ceremony involving the exchange of kava, mats and pigs, the high chief of the region, Sosefo Mautamakia, gave up his title of local "Fai'Pule" to a new Chief, Soane Uhila, a former territorial legislative assembly member.

"I am aware that what we are currently going through is a difficult and delicate period. A small part of our community does not agree with us. But if they want to come back, please accept them with an open heart. The unity of our community depends on us," Uhila said in his ceremonial acceptance speech.

The Prime minister – "Kalae Ki Valu" - of the pro-reform government, which has been installed next to the old King with the support of the French local authorities, Clovis Logologofolau, also attended the ceremony.

Mautamakia, who had been the Fai'Pule for the past two years, is now dubbed to become the new King of Wallis and Futuna, according to the pro-reform government, RFO's Télé-Wallis et Futuna reports.

Last week, Logologofolau was heading a pro-reformists delegation in neighbouring New Caledonia on what they termed an awareness mission in the other French Pacific territory, which is also home to more than 20,000 residents of Wallis and Futuna origin.

Speaking on behalf of those who have engaged in a confrontation with the current King for since the beginning of this year, Logologofolau told local media he and his Chiefs would crown a new King on September 25.

The Ki Valu explained the move in recalling that the King and his Chiefly clan had earlier this year attempted to nullify a court decision against his grandson, who had been found guilty of unintentional homicide in a drunk-driving accident.

This triggered an open confrontation with local French authorities.

"They have even threatened to deport the (French) Prefect, the French chief justice and the Public prosecutor ," Logologofolau said.

"What we're saying is that we're not against custom, we don't want to destroy it, far from it, but we believe the future of our population must remain with France," the Ki Valu told reporters on Friday last week in Nouméa.

September 15, 2005

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