29 Jul 2009

France and Vanuatu in conflict over uninhabited islands

3:02 pm on 29 July 2009

A new row has erupted between France and Vanuatu over two uninhabited islands which France maintains are part of its overseas territory of New Caledonia.

This comes after a New Caledonian pro-independence leader, Victor Tutugoro, signed a document with the Vanuatu prime minister, Edward Natapei, stating that the islands, Matthew and Hunter belong to Vanuatu.

Walter Zweifel reports.

"Since the early 1980s both Vanuatu and France have claimed the islands and the 200 kilometre economic zone around them. New Caledonia's member of the French senate, Simon Loueckhote, has told the local daily newspaper that the agreement has no legal standing. He has also expressed surprise that Mr Natapei flouted international conventions and questions the timing of the Vanuatu and FLNKS deal as France is to host a summit with Pacific leaders in Noumea on Friday. The pro-French Rassemblement UMP leader has urged the French ambassador in Port Vila to take up the issue. Mr Natapei has pulled out of the Noumea summit, saying he was invited by the French president, but who dropped his plan to host the event at least a month ago."