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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, May 31) - A ban [on commercial activity] imposed earlier this month by the traditional chiefs of [the French Pacific island of] Wallis following the death of their King, Tomasi Kulimoetoke, is causing food shortages and tensions in the neighbouring island of Futuna, local media report.The ban was imposed by the chiefs as a sign of respect and mourning following the old monarch's death.

This caused the latest load of containers onboard MV Southern Moana to be turned away earlier this month, following the Chiefs' advice.

The shipping vessel had been waiting for two days awaiting the green light, but eventually had to leave the bay of Mata'Utu to continue its regional tour onto Suva and Port Vila.

Meanwhile, containers destined for Wallis and Futuna had to be unloaded in Suva.

The next shipment is expected in early June.

But what has been perceived locally as a chiefly blunder has meanwhile made its effects felt, especially on Futuna island, in the Chiefly Kingdoms of Alo and Sigave.

In most small retail stores, shelves are essentially empty.

The shortage is especially felt for sugar, rice, flour, frozen chicken, mineral water and canned food.

In turn, local bakers are now unable to produce bread and local stores have now resorted to getting bread flown from Wallis.

Local retails claim they have experiences a slump in their turnover in the order of thirty to forty percent.

"We've had the hiccups due to the ship saga, and now we have to bear the consequences, because in the meantime, I still have to pay my employees, even if we've got nothing to sell", local Sogeipac store manager Ata Jessop told Télé-Wallis.

Earlier this month, reacting to the Wallis chiefs' ban and the subsequent turning down of the Southern Moana, one local French importer reacted angrily, saying that until now, there was an understanding that all things economic should be left to deal with by economic stakeholders and the French administration.

Speaking after the incident earlier this month, a spokesman from the Wallis chiefly clan and customary agriculture and fisheries minister, Paulo Lavuia, explained the one-week period of mourning for the general public had to be respected, and the chiefs would have hoped the vessel could have waited until the next day, when the blanket ban officially ended.

"We told the ship's representative that we are going through a period of prayers for the late Monarch, but that this will end on Wednesday (May 16), at 2 p.m., when a church service takes place. After the mass, the boat could wharf and unload its cargo, all night if necessary", the spokesman said.

He said he understood the chiefs were currently blamed for the vessel's leaving.

"Please accept our apologies", he said.

Following the King of Wallis's death on May 7, Chiefly families of Wallis imposed a six-month ban, during which it is officially forbidden to mention the very sensitive subject of the name for a possible successor on the throne.

Since the, even though the subject has not been mentioned in the public arena, it is believed heavy horse trading is already underway and tensions high between rival factions within the Chiefly House of Wallis.

Tomasi Kulimoetoke, locally known as the "Lavelua", died at the age of 88, after a record 48 years reign.

On the French Pacific territory, his death was regarded as a major turning point, the end of an era, but also a possible "make of break" transition.

E-mail : pad@vanuatu.com.vu © Copyright PAD Limited, 1999-2006

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