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Ambassador defends comments over disputed islands

By Royson Willie PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, June 8, 2010) - French Ambassador Françoise Maylie has responded to accusations of interference in the countries internal matters over the disputed islands of Mathew and Hunter by stating that "the French authorities wish this question to be discussed with the same friendly spirit which presides over all Vanuatu and France relations."

And she said they are open to discussions -- proposing a dialogue between experts of both countries, either in France, New Caledonia, or Vanuatu to discuss the contentious issue of the two islands.

However in a strongly worded statement from the office of the Opposition Acting Leader of the Opposition Harry Iauko said if Fr Walter Lini or Barak Sope were head of the government today they would simply cut ties with the French in the wake of reports that France would seem to be interfering in the internal politics of the country.

And he said if the two leaders were in power and the French were to leave for good not one ni-Vanuatu would be affected.

This was the Opposition’s response to reports carried on the Daily Post’s front page that the French Ambassador allegedly pressured the government to withdraw the Bill for the Maritime Zones (Amendment) Act.

The bill was among 11 others shelved by the government during the First Ordinary Session of parliament last week pending the Extra Ordinary Session expected to begin on Monday next week.

The proposed amendment to Maritime Zones Act 23 of 1981 would see the inclusion of Vanuatu’s sovereignty over Matthew and Hunter, the two islands in the far south whose names are not new in the Maritime Zones Act because they have already been mentioned under Section 5 (2) under the principle Act to be in Vanuatu’s territorial sea.

This was the bill that even though has not yet gone before parliament, was allegedly leaked to the French Embassy in Vanuatu who raised concerns with the Minister of Internal Affairs Moana Carcasses.

The Minister of Internal Affairs confirmed the approach from the French Ambassador in Port Vila but stopped short of revealing whether there was a demand for the withdrawal of the bill, which reports suggest may have been the case.

This led to the Leader of Opposition who is currently in China, to decry interference of internal politics.

Ambassador Maylie insisted she was not trying to interfere in the country’s national affairs.

"There is a lot of misunderstandings and no real comprehension of the question.

"France authority wishes to discuss in friendly spirit. I don’t interfere in domestic politics," said the French Ambassador Maylie.

But the Acting Leader of Opposition called upon the cultural entities of this nation to demand the French authority to give the country’s "stolen tabu treasures" of Matthew and Hunter, a treasure that holds "deep the foundation of Tafea’s cultural identity" back.

"Don’t wait for the Government to do it."

"The Government is blind over courtesy of the French diplomacy and is on the brink of relinquishing its national sovereignty to one of the greatest super powers on (this) planet.

"Don’t wait or you will forever regret," the outspoken politician said.

Iauko said the Natapei-led government has continued to entertain France’s defiance to Vanuatu’s sovereignty with aid money and France has continued to lay its card on Vanuatu’s weakest table, by pumping aid money towards strengthening its influence and culture in Vanuatu.

Culturally Vanuatu has connections to Matthew and Hunter that can be traced back over hundreds of years and the people of Aneityum call the two islands Umaeneang and Umaenupni.

Even the Kanaks who are the indigenous people of New Caledonia have expressed their agreement that Vanuatu owns the two islands because of these cultural ties to the southern part of Vanuatu.

But Paris still disagrees with this, with the proposed amendment to the Maritime Zones Act.

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.

The French authorities have expressed the fact that they are open to dialogue, as emphasized in particular in the proposition made in July, 2007 by the President of the French Republic, answering the letter dated July 3, 2007, received from Mr Ham Lini, then Prime Minister of Vanuatu, to open discussions on the "delimitation of the maritime border situated in the North of Loyalty Islands", that is a zone which is not subject to contest.

The French Embassy has sent on 17th December 2008 a Note verbale, proposing a dialogue between experts of both countries, either in France, New Caledonia, or Vanuatu, and has expressed on many occasions her hope to convene this expert meeting on the subject.

The French authorities are keen to reaffirm their commitment about a successful and joint insertion of the French communities in the Pacific, and their will to develop furthermore the neighborhood and cooperation links, mutually beneficial, established long-time ago with Vanuatu.

France notes with satisfaction that Vanuatu became a major partner for New Caledonia, as the renewal, in April 2010, of the Convention for regional cooperation between France, New Caledonia and Vanuatu, attest. The French authorities appreciate in particular the measures taken by the Government of Vanuatu to establish in their State a true bilingualism

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