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Chirac Wants To 'Revitalise' Pacific Relations

French President Wants To 'Revitalise' Relations With Pacific

PAPE'ETE (Oceania Flash/Pacific Media Watch): French President Jacques Chirac, who has arrived in the Pacific territory of French Polynesia, has declared he wants to "revitalise" relations with Pacific island nations after tensions had arisen during French nuclear testing. Oceania Flash reports.

Speaking in Pape'ete in front of French Polynesia's President Gaston Flosse, the French head of state said the time was now for a "new partnership" based on "renewed trust" with the French territory.

"We have a long, common history, based on the notion of autonomy and harmonious development", Chirac said, adding French Polynesia had "retained its traditions and its character".

"You are carrying France's message on the values it defends," Chirac said, referring to notions of "multipolarity" in terms of global organisation.

"Now is the time to amplify this policy. We will revitalise dialogue and cooperation with the Pacific islands states", he said.

On Monday, Chirac is scheduled to meet most Pacific Island forum country heads of states and governments for a so-called "France-Oceania" summit in French Polynesia's capital Pape'ete.

Prominent regional organisations such as the 22-strong Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), through its director general Lourdes Pangelinan and the 16-nation Pacific islands Forum acting secretary general Iosefa Maivai will also be there.

Special treatment has been accorded to the prime ministers of Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea - Laisenia Qarase, Edward Natapei and Sir Michael Somare - who will be accorded a one-to-one meeting with Chirac.

Among prominent officials in attendance is also New Zealand's Prime Minister Phil Goff. But Australia did not send a representation.

On relations with the Pacific region, Chirac also hinted that France's best representative in the region could be French Polynesia, which is currently on the verge of becoming an "overseas country" thanks to a recent French constitutional reform on decentralisation.

An organic law was endorsed earlier this month by the local Parliament, the territorial assembly.

It now remains to be given the final seal of approval by the French State Council and Constitutional Council.

This would allow the French Pacific territory to become in charge of its own international affairs and to manage its local employment and immigration policies.

Those chapters would then be individually dealt with by so-called "country laws".

"With its new, reformed, status, French Polynesia will have more freedom to build this new regional partnership... It will be the French overseas collectivity that has the widest attributions, with no equal in the French system ... So it does not mean France is pulling out, on the contrary, it is now your partner", he said.

"This is the way forward for French Polynesia to be more present, it is therefore France's way too".

Chirac also officially expressed France's "gratitude" to French Polynesia from once being home to the metropolitan power's nuclear testing campaign (from early 1960 until 1996).

"Without French Polynesia, France would not be the great power that it is today. This has allowed our country to preserve it sovereignty and independence. We are now able to express an autonomous and respected stance in the concert of nations ... French Polynesia has contributed in a determining way to French national defence ... We will never forget this", he said.

In 1995, as Chirac had just been elected Head of State, he ordered the resumption of nuclear tests in the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa.

The nuclear experimentation centre was dismantled early 1996.

Since the tests have ended for good, French Polynesia is getting compensation from France through a fund that aimed at boosting its small economy and help it invest and diversify in productive sectors.

Earlier this year, on Chirac's decision, this "reconversion" fund (about US$160 million per year), which was initially set to last until 2006, became an open-ended fund, with no more time limit.

It has now been renamed "economic development comprehensive allocation".

During Chirac's speech, in downtown Pape'ete, several hundreds of nuclear veterans from the local "Moruroa e Tato'u" (Moruroa and us) were trying to make their voices heard.

Just like former Fiji workers who has been employed in the 1950s on British nuclear testing sites in Kirimati (Christmas) Island, they too want official recognition from Paris that there is a link between exposure to nuclear testing and the illness they and their descendants are suffering.


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