18 Jun 2010

Vanuatu chiefs back maritime bill

3:18 pm on 18 June 2010

Chiefs from Tafea Province in southern Vanuatu gathered at Parliament House on Thursday to show their support for the bill setting up the Vanuatu Maritime Zone.

This comes amid claims that the government has been pressured by the French Ambassador in Port Vila, Francoise Maylie, not to pass the bill.

Mrs Maylie has denied the allegations made by the Opposition.

The bill will give the Government of Vanuatu the legal basis to negotiate a maritime border with the French territory of New Caledonia and with Fiji in the South, and Solomon Islands in the North.

The southern boundary is critical because it affects the disputed islands of Mathew and Hunter, which are claimed by both Vanuatu and France.

Chief Jean-Marie Leye, a former president of Vanuatu who comes from the island of Aneityum, says Mathew and Hunter are owned by his people.

He says the French only took an interest in the islands in 1975 but his grandparents used to go there for many years before that.

Parliament has now passed the Maritime Zone Bill.