10 Jun 2010

Vanuatu poised to back down in island dispute with France, claims opposition

3:07 pm on 10 June 2010

Vanuatu's opposition says the government is on the verge of backing down to France in the dispute over Matthew and Hunter islands.

A high-level delegation from Vanuatu is in New Caledonia and believed to be discussing the volcanic islands which both countries lay claim to.

A recent trip to Noumea by Vanuatu's Internal Affairs Minister drew criticism after it emerged he informally discussed a settlement with France.

The government denies that it's changed its official stance that Matthew and Hunter are part of Tafea province.

But the opposition claims the French Ambassador recently pressured the Vanuatu government to withdraw a Bill for the Maritime Zones Amendment Act which would further legalise Vanuatu's hold on the islands.

The deputy opposition leader, Harry Iauko, says these developments have upset the nation.

"Because Matthew and Hunter is all Vanuatu's interests, the whole nation. Geographically, it belongs to Vanuatu, that's all our interest. And once the Council of Ministers withdraw that bill, they can expect people to react."