France calls on Wallisian chiefs to end airport blockade
France calls on Wallisian chiefs to end a blockade of the airport, now in its second week.
The French overseas minister has called for an end to the blockade of the airport of Wallis which has been shut since the beginning of last week.
The blockade, which has been set up by villagers, has affected mainly links with New Caledonia and left hundreds of people stranded.
Don Wiseman asked Walter Zweifel what started this:
WALTER ZWEIFEL: At the heart of this action is a demand by a village that the airport company give two jobs to locals. This was not granted and so at the beginning of last week, villagers blocked the airport and forced the only international carrier to fly to the island to cancel its services. The chiefs say the airport was built on customary land and in return, the airport company should hire locals. The French prefect says no such deal exists.
DON WISEMAN: What has been done to end the protest?
WZ: Negotiations have been unsuccessful and are now absent. The French prefect went on public radio and television and showed a 1959 document of the land purchase and to point out that the villagers demand was baseless. He tried to end the blockade by securing an order from the court of appeal in New Caledonia that the airport be opened immediately. The order threatens five Wallisian chiefs with a daily 900 US dollar fine each for non-compliance.
DW: What are chiefs saying?
WZ: They insist that there has to be mediation and someone should be dispatched from Paris. But here things get quite curious. The prefect has told the public broadcaster that no such request has been registered with the overseas minister George Pau Langevin. And while the media has kept reporting the demand, Paris also says no communication has been received to that effect. A Wallisian parliamentarian who happens to be in Paris though says the request is with the minister's advisors. But for the minister, the protest by what she says involves just 20 people is illegal. She condemns the action which can have serious consequences while she also says a dialogue has to be restored to settle the dispute.
DW: So where to next?
WZ: It is difficult to say. What we have not seen is the use of force to remove a seemingly small protest. I think there is little appetite to send in police. It can also be seen as a sign of the fragility of the French grip on a society where traditional power structures matter. Wallis is a kingdom which the French republic recognises. A decade ago, the then king kept harbouring his grandson with impunity after he was convicted for causing a fatal accident. Rival clans then wanted to unseat the king with French help, but his backers set up armed roadblocks and damaged and closed the airport. None of those actions resulted in any court action.
For now, the travel plans of hundreds of people are on hold.
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