18 Mar 2019

Vanuatu foreign minister rejects calls to expel French diplomat

1:31 pm on 18 March 2019

Vanuatu's foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu says any attempt to expel France's representative from Port Vila would be detrimental to negotiations over two disputed islands.

A statue at the entrance to Vanuatu's parliament in the capital, Port Vila.

A statue at the entrance to Vanuatu's parliament in the capital, Port Vila. Photo: RNZI / Jamie Tahana

Mr Reganvanu was responding to calls from the opposition leader in Vanuatu, Ishmael Kalsakau, for the Charge d'Affaires to be expelled in order to send a clear signal to Paris over the Matthew and Hunter islands.

The small uninhabited islands are claimed by both Vanuatu and France which have been holding talks to agree maritime boundaries.

Mr Regenvanu said declaring the French diplomat "persona non grata" is not the right thing to do.

He said the quickest way to resolve the issue of the ownership of Matthew and Hunter is to continue the current negotiations with France.

Earlier, Mr Kalsakau said Mr Regenvanu should kick French diplomats out for the continuing intrusion by France into Vanuatu's sovereign territory.

The Daily Post newspaper reported Mr Kalsakau saying what France had done was an outrage.

A French navy vessel visited the islands in January when its crew members painted the French flag on a rock there.

While protesting France's action, the Opposition said it was mindful of the existing cooperation and friendly relations with Vanuatu's neighbour, New Caledonia, and the recent successful trade talks held with the territory by Prime Minister Charlot Salwai.

But Mr Kalsakau said France's recent action was a rude, blatant disregard for Vanuatu's sovereignty.

He said Vanuatu had long-standing traditional and territorial links with the two islands, a fact that had been reiterated by Vanuatu to France.

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