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SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Nov. 28) – There are growing concerns in the French territory of Wallis and Futuna about the deteriorating health of the King of Wallis, 87-yerar-old Tomasi Kulimoetoke, who has been unable to attend several official ceremonies for the past three months.

[PIR editor’s note: Wallis and Futuna is an overseas territory of France located north of Tonga and west of Samoa. The territory includes three small islands, home to about 15,000 polynesians.]

Kulimoetoke, locally known as the "Lavelua", acceded to the throne of Wallis in 1959.

At the weekend, a Roman Catholic Church service that is usually dedicated to the King and which he has always attended, had to be changed into a low-key mode, RFO's Wallis and Futuna station reports.

The mass was only attended by the French territory's officials and one representative of the Wallis House, the Kalaikivalu.

In August this year, at another religious ceremony to mark the Assumption (August 15), the King could not attend either.

Then again, health reasons were mentioned for the King's absence, but traditional leaders insisted that a cup of the traditional kava offered to the bed-ridden monarch should be taken to his residence.

The King of Wallis originally signed the deal that made Wallis and Futuna islands a part of France, back in 1961.

Kulimoetoke, who has been in power on Wallis and Futuna since 1959, signed a pact with France in 1961, granting both Wallis and Futuna the official status of "French Overseas Territory".

The other two Kings are from Futuna island: they are the Tuisigave, for the Kingdom of Sigave and the Tuigaifo, for the kingdom of Alo.

Wallis and Futuna islands, located Northeast of Fiji, are populated by around fifteen thousand inhabitants.

Another twenty thousand-strong community from those islands is also residing in New Caledonia (populated by around 250,000).

In September 2005, Wallis Island was the scene of an ongoing confrontation between rivalling factions within the royal family, one of the family members calling themselves "pro-reform" and demanding changes towards a more democratic form of society.

The tension, which appeared to be an early symptom of a succession tussle, had arisen from criminal convictions imposed to the King of Wallis's grandson, who had later taken refuge at his grandfather's Palace to evade the French justice and a jail sentence.

After a blockade organised by armed supporters of the King initially prevented French troops to land on Wallis airport and another self-proclaimed "pro-reform" faction from within the Wallis royal family had sided with the French government in an apparent bid to seize power, the situation reverted to a status quo with France reaffirming its support to the ageing King.

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