VANUATU, NEW CALEDONIA DISPUTE UNINHABITED ISLES

Intrigue spices controversy over Matthew and Hunter

By Ricky Binihi PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Oct. 28, 2010) – French President Nicholas Sarkozy has always maintained he has no dispute with Vanuatu over Mathew and Hunter yet Ambassador Mrs. Francoise Maylie was recently spotted visiting the RVS Tukoro compound, allegedly advising Vanuatu Patrol Boat personnel not to patrol the Southern tip of Vanuatu.

[PIR editor’s note: Mathew and Hunter Islands are two uninhabited volcanic islands located southeast of Vanuatu and about 300 kilometers east of New Caledonia. Both islands were discovered by whaling captains in the late 1700’s and were named after their ships. In 1929, both islands were annexed by France, however in 1965, they were claimed to be part of New Hebrides by United Kingdom. In 1980, Vanuatu claimed sovereignty over both islands after gaining its independence but made no occupation. According to Island Business, there has been an on-going conflict between France and Vanuatu over these islands. An activist from Tafea, southernmost Province in Vanuatu claimed that the islands can only be theirs and will remain theirs because they are both tied to their customs. For France to make an issue over the islands would be an act of re-colonization, he says.]

As of June this year after the Bill for Maritime Amendment Act No. 6 was passed in Parliament the South of Vanuatu now meant that Mathew and Hunter are the additional islands added to Tafea [Vanuatu’s southernmost province], even though for many hundreds of years Mathew and Hunter have always been ours.

But what surprised many senior government officials is how the French intelligence knew about the plans of the Sovereign state of the Republic of Vanuatu and how they intercepted Vanuatu’s secret plan at the right moment.

The plan, according to Daily Post investigations, was for the RVS Tukoro to carry out a normal maritime surveillance of our Economic Exclusive Zone down South Tuesday last week, but with very special mission, which was the visit to Mathew and Hunter.

Organizers of the mission loaded the RVS Tukoro with extra food supplies and extra fuel and all was set to go when Daily Post sources at the Government Wharf said they saw Ambassador Maylie pull up near the RVS Tukoro compound.

She reportedly told members of the Vanuatu Maritime Wing that perhaps it was not safe for RVS Tukoro to go to Mathew and Hunter as France might view it as an act of aggression.

Daily Post was later told that they were people who were willing to put their lives at risk including high chiefs from the Tafea Province and very senior government officials "and prepared to board the RVS Tukoro that evening."

The mission was conducted in a manner that only a handful of key government officials and the state ministers knew about it.

And even the Vanuatu Police Force deputy commissioner Willie Vira told Daily Post Monday he did not know about a proposed visit by the RVS Tukoro to Mathew and Hunter and about the visit of Ambassador Maylie to the patrol boat.

It seems that the mission was organized discreetly because some of the top brass in the Vanuatu Police Force did not know, yet the French Ambassador knew about it and dismantle it singlehandedly. And still today in government no one has bee flushed out as the culprit who passed information to the French.

And only avenue now would be for Vanuatu to foster good relations again with Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

Why? Fiji has established its maritime boundary between Fiji and the French Territory of New Caledonia and between Fiji and the French territory of Wallis and Futuna in what is called the Fiji-France Maritime Delimitation Agreement which was signed in Suva in 1983.

The boundary with New Caledonia is to the southwest of Fiji and consists of a single-segment straight line defined by two specific points. For purposes of drawing the border, the treaty assumes that France has sovereignty over Matthew and Hunter Islands, but since Vanuatu also claims sovereignty over the islands, the treaty states that the treaty is "without prejudice to the sovereign rights of any neighboring State"

If Fiji could say it does not recognize the Treaty then its back to the drawing board.

Otherwise, Vanuatu must be forced to table of negotiations with France like Ambassador Maylie said in her response to accusations she was interfering in the domestic affairs of Vanuatu by the Opposition in June this year.

"In regard to the two uninhabited islands of Matthew and Hunter that both Vanuatu and France claimed legitimate rights over since Independence in 1980, that the organic law of 1999 relative to New Caledonia has mentioned as part of the territory of New Caledonia, the French authorities wish this question to be discussed with the same friendly spirit which presides over all Vanuatu and France relations," Ambassador Maylie said.

Now questions are abounding as to what would happen to the provision of the new Maritime Zone Amendment Act which states that "Mathew and Hunter are within and part of the sovereign state of Republic of Vanuatu" and made into law this year.

Because some people in Vanuatu are willing to put their lives at risk to make a case for the International Court of Justice at Hague.

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