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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, June 22) - The governments of France, New Caledonia and Vanuatu are scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding on formal cooperation during a forthcoming "France-Oceania" leaders summit on June 26.

The France-Oceania summit itself will mainly take place on Tuesday June 26 at the French Presidential Palace, the Elysée.

But on the sidelines of the summit, Vanuatu Prime minister Ham Lini is also expected to sign a cooperation agreement with New Caledonia's President Marie-Noëlle Thémereau, New Caledonia's government latest cabinet meeting on Thursday heard.

While in Paris, after the France-Oceania meeting, Thémereau will also hold special talks with Vanuatu Prime minister Ham Lini.

The two are expected to formalize a bilateral cooperation treaty between New Caledonia and its closest Pacific neighbor, which is also a former French-British condominium formerly known as the New Hebrides. Vanuatu gained independence in 1980.

The Vanuatu delegation's trip will also be sponsored by France's Economic, Social and Cultural Fund for the Pacific, which has earmarked some 25,000 US dollars for the Vanuatu government's travel costs to Paris.

The finds have been delegated to New Caledonia as part of its regional cooperation initiatives.

"This is a fresh opportunity for New Caledonia to reinforce its actions in terms of regional cooperation and also to bring France political support in the part of the world", the government said in a release.

Earlier this week, leaders from both New Caledonia and French Polynesia have confirmed their attendance to a "France-Oceania" summit to be held in Paris with Pacific Islands Forum leaders and French President Jacques Chirac.

In a statement on Thursday, the government of French Polynesia has confirmed that in spite of earlier threats to boycott the Paris meeting, President Oscar Temaru will attend the meeting, which is likely to define France's policy in the Pacific region for at least the next three years.

In a statement, Temaru's office says one of the highlights of the visit will be his first face-to-face meeting with French President Chirac and the Paris summit with Pacific Islands Forum member countries' leaders.

Temaru's office also says the French Polynesian leader is also planning to hold talks with French Prime minister Dominique de Villepin, French minister for overseas territories François Baroin as well as minister for transport, tourism, sea and public utilities (and also a former French minister for overseas territories in the mid-1990s) Dominique Perben.

Temaru also announces a one-to-one meeting with New Zealand's foreign minister Winston Peters, who will also be in Paris to attend the summit.

French Polynesia's legislative Assembly Speaker Philip Schyle also indicated earlier this week that he would travel to Paris to "respond to the invitation and represent French Polynesia … because it has its place in the French spectrum, as well as in the Pacific spectrum".

Apart from the political summit on Monday 26 June, Pacific leaders will also visit France's new Quai Branly Museum in Paris, a new facility that is dedicated to the world's first indigenous cultures and arts, including those from the Pacific.

During his stay in Paris, Temaru will also meet French Socialist party leader François Hollande.

A few weeks ago, Temaru was also the first politician in the French Pacific to openly declare his support for Socialist former minister (and Hollande's de facto) Segolène Royal in her bid to run for next year's Presidential election in France.

At the same time, Temaru's minister for education, Jean-Marius Raapoto will meet his metropolitan French counterpart, Gilles de Robien.

June 23, 2006

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