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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Jan. 11) – A road French President Charles de Gaulle promised in 1966, traversing through the rugged mountain center of the island of Tahiti, linking the north and south coasts, is finished—41 years later.

De Gaulle made the promise during his one and only visit to Tahiti in early September 1966, five days before he witnessed from a French Navy ship the first French atmospheric nuclear test over the Tuamotu atoll of Moruroa on Sept. 11. The tests continued, moving underground and finally coming to an end in 1996.

Work on the 36-kilometer (22.4-mile) road through Tahiti's undeveloped heartland did not begin until 2001. It took four and a half years, 500 French soldiers, 50 heavy-duty machines, 10,000 cubic meters (353,147 cubic ft.) of cement and 2.5 billion French Pacific francs (US$26 million) to build the road.

French Polynesia paid one billion French Pacific francs (US$10.4 million) of the cost. The French State paid the remaining 1.5 billion French Pacific francs (US$15.6 million).

The major project officially came to an end Tuesday when Vice Admiral Patrick Giaume, high commander of French military forces in French Polynesia, presented President Oscar Temaru a final report on the project. Also present were several other French military officials, the French State's Windward Islands administrator, Xavier Barrois, and the Temaru government's public works minister, James Salmon.

Besides linking the north coast Commune of Papenoo with the south coast district of Mataiea, the road passes through the rugged heart of the island, opening up several sites within Tahiti's two main valleys.

The State officially turned the new road over to French Polynesia's government on Dec. 13 without a ceremony.

"Thirty-six kilometers of road is something," Temaru said Tuesday. "And then there's the work that was carried out under very difficult conditions. On behalf of the government, I thank all of those who worked on this project."

Temaru said he would like to obtain the name of each military person who participated in the project so that he could write to them individually, thanking them.

Admiral Giaume was also satisfied with the project, saying he had very closely followed the project's advancement. But, judging from his remarks, he was not the only one.

"This very concrete program of the State was followed by the Elysée," he said, referring to the office of the French president. "That shows the importance that the commander in chief gave it," the admiral said.

The success of this cooperation between the French and French Polynesia governments obviously gave Temaru some ideas of potential similar joint projects.

"There's another road project in mind," Temaru told the admiral. "We're doing the prospecting work." This would involve linking Tahiti's peninsula with the northern part of the main island, similar to the former Flosse government's Te Ara Nui project that the Temaru government halted.

Although Temaru said such a project would also need a partnership in handling the work, the admiral said only, "That would need to be negotiated. Such things are not easy to start up."

January 12, 2006

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