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Vanuatu traditional leaders call for Macron to address islands dispute

The French Embassy has confirmed that Emmanuel Macron is due to arrive in Port Vila today for his two-day visit as part of his three-country Pacific visit which also includes New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea.

France and Vanuatu both claim sovereignty over the disputed, uninhabited islands which lie south-south-east of Port Vila and due east of Noumea.

Indigenous Kanaks from New Caledonia have previously said it belongs to Vanuatu.

Malvatumauri National Council Chief Jean Pierre Tom is urging Vanuatu's Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau to raise the issue with President Macron during his visit.

The Vanuatu Free West Papua Association, which advocates for the eradication of colonisation of Melanesia, also urged Kalsakau to raise the issue of Matthew and Hunter islands with Macron.

Chief Tom said that the people of Vanuatu are expecting Macron's visit to be a "game changer and not a re-enforcement of colonial rule".

Lai Sakita from Tafea province said the whole of Melanesia "will not be free" if France was still claiming Matthew and Hunter islands as its own.

Sakita said Kanak ancestors never reached the two islands like the ni-Vanuatu.

In 2009, the New Caledonia pro-independence party, the FLNKS, signed the Keamu Declaration with then Vanuatu prime minister, Serge Vohor, recognising the customary membership of Hunter and Matthew Islands to Vanuatu.

The document was later denounced by the French government.

On December 5, 2010, the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations in New York wrote to the UN claiming that France exercises full sovereignty over the two islands.

It believes that no other State has the right to claim the maritime areas adjacent to them.

Last year, negotiations were supposed to start between the two countries on the matter, but France did not show up, arguing that it was focused on events in New Caledonia.

France has been in the Pacific since the 19th century and, as a result of its colonial history, claims three territories in the region: New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna, and French Polynesia.