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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Mar 6) – A project to have the Marquesas Islands of Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva classified as UNESCO World Heritage Properties has passed its first test and now awaits the backing of French President Jacques Chirac, a Tong Sang government minister reported in Paris Tuesday.

The 10-year-old project presented to the French UNESCO Commission has confirmed that the proposal for the first two Marquesas Islands has been judged appropriate, said Louis Frébault, the French Polynesia public works minister and head of a steering committee created last August to guide the project through to completion.

"It is very positive. We know that it is a battle of several years. The inscription is only a beginning because thereafter it will be necessary to manage the land that will be classified," Frébault said after meeting in Paris with Jean-Pierre Boyer, secretary-general of the French UNESCO Commission.

Now the people of the Marquesas Islands are counting on the support of President Chirac, Frébault said, because there are numerous similar projects that will undergo consideration by a committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

As Chirac's presidency is about to come to a close at the end of May, his support is critical "because we really need all the technical and political support at the same time", said Frébault, who is from the Marquesas Islands.

He noted that each year there are several projects from throughout the world seeking classification as UNESCO World Heritage properties, including some 30 in France. But only two of the French projects will be chosen for submission to UNSESCO, Frébault said.

French Polynesia Government President Gaston Tong Sang has just written to Chirac, reminding him of the big stakes involved in the Marquesas Islands. "We would like to be able to quickly stimulate the tourism and economy of our land from this perspective. An inscription as soon as possible of the entire Marquesas Archipelago as UNESCO World Heritage Mixed Properties . . . would be an invaluable help for all of (French) Polynesia," Tong Sang wrote.

The dossiers for the four other Marquesas Islands will soon be submitted. The other islands are Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Fatu Hiva and Fatu Huku.

A "mixed" classification is being sought for the Marquesas Islands because they offer both natural as well as cultural assets, Frébault said. At the moment, the UNESCO World Heritage List includes 830 properties. There are 644 cultural, 162 natural and 24 mixed properties, all of which form part of the cultural and natural heritage that the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.

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