The French naval vessel Le Vendémiaire recently carried out a mission on the islands of Matthew and Hunter. Image: Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes

The Leader of Opposition has called on the Minister of Foreign Affairs to declare France’s Charge d’Affairs a persona non-grata, until France apologises for what the Opposition labels as an  "uncalled-for intrusion” to Matthew and Hunter. 

Opposition Leader Ishmael Kalsakau condemned the unwarranted, forceful actions of France to suddenly sail a mission to Mathew and Hunter Islands in a statement released yesterday afternoon.

He also called on the Government in the strongest of terms to protest that France has no respect and total disregard for the ongoing maritime negotiation talks. The Opposition Office sees this is a clear act of aggression.

“It is an outrage and undiplomatic of France to declare that its action restores the marks of French Sovereignty,” MP Kalsakau stated.

“The Opposition Office is mindful of the existing cooperation and friendly relations with neighborly New Caledonia, especially of the sister city relations and the recent successful trade talks led by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai.

“But France’s recent action is a rude blatant disregard to Vanuatu’s sovereignty. Vanuatu has had traditional and territorial links to Matthew and Hunter for ages and has repeatedly made this known to France, prior and after independence.”

The Opposition Office describes France’s action as a cheap blow to the successful ongoing maritime boundary talks and again reiterates that the Minister of Foreign Affairs must declare France’s Chargé d’Affaires a persona non grata until an apology is received from France.

On Wednesday this week, Radio New Zealand reported New Caledonia restating France’s claim on Matthew and Hunter. According to Radio New Zealand, three of New Caledonia’s four members of the French legislature have come out strongly against Vanuatu’s claim to two uninhabited islands also claimed by France.

“They issued a statement after the pro-independence FLNKS movement restated its position that Matthew and Hunter islands belonged to Vanuatu’s heritage,” the report stated. The three said last November’s independence referendum showed a majority of New Caledonians wanted to stay French. They said they would therefore oppose any attempt to dispossess the country of part of its land and wealth.

“FLNKS leader Daniel Goa said unlike the people of Vanuatu, the Kanaks had no cultural links to the two islands. He said it was more of a case of France wanting to keep its maritime area, being driven by economic interest.”

The report also cited the remarks of Geraldine Giraudeau, a New Caledonian public law professor specialising in territorial issue, saying the two countries were likely to keep their territorial dispute out of the courts.

Giraudeau said litigation over Matthew and Hunter would likely be long and costly, and France’s ongoing moves to assert sovereignty wouldn’t stand up in the international courts.

“I’m sure that the governments will try everything to reach a negotiated settlement before thinking about any other way of resolution,” Professor Giraudeau said. Daily Post reached out to the Minister of Foreign Affairs yesterday afternoon after the Opposition issued the statement, but with the time difference between Vanuatu and Romania there was no response prior to print.

Earlier this month Minister Regenvanu summoned the Chargé d’Affaires of the French Embassy in Vanuatu after the Armed Forces Surveillance Frigate Vendémiaire carried out the mission on the islands of Matthew and Hunter.

Minister Regenvanu told him that “Prime Minister Charlot Salwai will be sending an official complaint letter to the President of France” and Vanuatu “expects that such an action as this will not happen again”.

The negotiation between Vanuatu and France to determine maritime boundaries is underway and the next meeting is expected to happen at the end of this month.

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