Vanuatu and France to hold border talks

Bathymetric map showing the boundary of the New Hebrides tectonic plate and the Australian plate. Matthew and Hunter sit on the New Hebrides plate, while New Caledonia sits on the Australian plate.

Bathymetric map showing the boundary of the New Hebrides tectonic plate and the Australian plate. Matthew and Hunter sit on the New Hebrides plate, while New Caledonia sits on the Australian plate.

Hunter Island

Hunter Island

The big outstanding issue with France — Matthew and Hunter Islands — is soon to be the subject of discussion in border talks which will take place at the Forum Fisheries Agency in Honiara. PM Charlot Salwai revealed this after the PM had held discussions with the French Minister of Overseas Territories, Annick Girardin, in Apia at the Pacific Islands Forum Leader’s meeting earlier this month. The border talks will be held in October. Vanuatu requires that the Ocean Policy covering climate and other issues be consulted as regional issues. Despite this, France and Fiji have already signed a border treaty without Vanuatu. Such a treaty will also be necessary between Fiji and Vanuatu.

Matthew Island

Matthew Island

PM Salwai pointed out that France was aware of Vanuatu’s Independence from 1980, and he said that Vanuatu should have been consulted when Fiji and France signed their border agreement. “This is why Vanuatu continues to dispute France’s claims and the treaty with Fiji. There are geographical reasons, cultural and traditional reasons it has in line with Melanesian spirit, Melanesian culture. We have the word of the Kanaks and senators of New Caledonia who expressed support for our positions last year”, said the Prime Minister. He mentioned two times this year when his government had taken up the issue with Paris — in January — and at MSG meetings. PM Salwai hoped the issue could be broached in this year’s United Nations General Assembly beginning in a few days.

The Supreme Court has dismissed a claim by a company called VRP MENA Limited, which was promoting and maintaining Vanuatu visa applications for people residing in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Iran. The agreement with VRP MENA to support a citizenship scheme was dated 10 March this year. 17 May saw cancellation of eligibility of citizens of these four countries for citizenship of Vanuatu. It was explained as “for reasons of national security”. VRP MENA claimed the Citizenship Commission should have given more notice concerning these countries’ applications. Some 56 are said to be undergoing due diligence. VRP MENA claimed they had already received fees in relation to these countries amounting to over US$ 2 million (Vt 211 million) as designated agents of the Vanuatu Development Support Programme. Fees were paid into Vanuatu Government accounts. Following discussion recently between the Head of State and Prime Minister, changes were made in the personnel of the Citizenship Commission and published in the official gazette.

The CEO of Vanuatu Biosecurity, Timothy Tumukon, was present for the transshipment (Mele Bay to Vila wharf) of equipment from China needed for the Vanuatu Airport Investment Project. It will be recalled that a vast quantity of the freight from China consisted of aggregate gravel to be used in sealing the runways. This material was ineligible for entry to Vanuatu owing to the possibility of it carrying foot and mouth disease. The freighter from China has been held in Mele Bay and the aggregate will be sent to the construction company’s projects in Africa. The hatches holding the aggregate on board the ship anchored in Mele Bay have not been opened, Bio-Security’s Tumukon confirmed.

Seven countries of the region will be behind Vanuatu in taking the West Papua issue to the United Nations in New York this week. PM Salwai told Daily Post that until the present, Solomon Islands has been the only other Pacific island country backing Vanuatu on the issue. However, since the Forum meeting in Apia and the PM’s explanation of how the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are supporting West Papua, there will be more support for West Papua’s independence at the UN General Assembly.

PM Charlot Salwai has also spoken of the promised bilateral discussions with Australia concerning kava. He has a hope that it can be made a reserved business for indigenous ni-Vanuatu. He acknowledges the difficulties Australia has experienced with the product as used by some Australian communities when consumed along with alcoholic beverages and narcotics. Further, he points out that expansion of the kava market could assist development objectives considerably.

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