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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, March 29) – The French Economic, Social and Cultural Cooperation Fund for the Pacific has earlier this week allocated some 2.9 million euro [US$3.4 million] to about sixty projects related to the Pacific region.

At its steering committee meeting held on Monday in Nouméa, New Caledonia, the Paris-based fund approved projects mainly related to public health, environment and biodiversity preservation and research, as well as the promotion of Pacific islands cultural heritage.

In the health sector, this year's share reaches about twenty percent of the total, mainly for projects run jointly with New Zealand (including one, called "Prepare") and Australia (especially to fight HIV-AIDS).

New Caledonia President Marie-Noëlle Thémereau, who chaired the meeting on Monday, told local media another strong emphasis – about fifteen percent of the total sum for 2006 – had also been placed on regional projects aimed at preserving the environment and biodiversity, especially in terms of marine life and coral reefs.

This year, a major French Economic, Social and Cultural Cooperation-funded marine and land biodiversity project is scheduled to be launched and based in Espiritu Santo Island in Vanuatu.

The Fund is also renewing its support to other coral reefs initiatives, such as the CRISP, which aims to better understand and therefore better protect coral life in the Pacific against such phenomena as bleaching due to global warming.

The third major sector supported this year related directly (twenty percent of the Fund) to scientific and research cooperation in the Pacific region, including through a boosting of ties between universities in the French Pacific and regional universities such as the University of the South Pacific.

On culture, the Fund's steering committee also focused on boosting ties and networking between regional authors – it has decided to fund the translation into English language of books and essays published by French Pacific writers, but so far in French only.

The French aid body also announced on Monday it would provide significant support to the logistics of a "France-Oceania" summit to be held late June in Paris and to which all Pacific Islands Forum leaders have been personally invited by French President Jacques Chirac.

Several regional leaders, including Papua New Guinea's Sir Michael Somare, have recently confirmed their attendance.

The summit will also coincide with the official opening in Paris of a Museum of Primal Arts entirely dedicated to the world's first indigenous cultures

It is believed a very large part of the permanent exhibition will be dedicated to the Pacific.

One of the Fund's main objectives is to promote and boost stronger ties between France's three Pacific countries and territories – New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna – and their South Pacific regional neighbors, mainly Pacific Islands Forum countries.

The Fund's steering committee consists of ten members: five of those are representing the French ministries of Finance, Overseas Territories, Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

The other five are representing the executives and governments of the three French Pacific dependencies – two for New Caledonia, two for French Polynesia and one for Wallis and Futuna.

March 29, 2006

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