Maritime Boundary talks successful: Vanuatu PM

VANUATU Prime Minister Charlot Salwai has announced the successful outcome of the historical maritime boundary talks held, between France and Vanuatu for the first time last week.

“The office of the Prime Minister wishes to make the following statement to its good citizens from Torres to Umeanupe and Leka Island, following the successful outcome of the historical maritime boundary talks,” Prime Minister Salwai said.

“At the outset, the Vanuatu Government wishes to acknowledge that due to different positions on sovereignty over Matthew and Hunter Islands, both Vanuatu and France have never met to discuss their shared maritime boundaries. This first ever negotiation between the two countries is a milestone achievement in Vanuatu’s history and it paves the way for future high-level negotiations.”

The boundary talks focused on two important issues. Firstly, the issue of Sovereignty over Umaenupe (Matthew) and Leka (Hunter) islands and secondly the median line between New Caledonia and the Vanuatu waters.

The Vanuatu negotiating team, mandated by the Council of Ministers, was led by Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Johnny Kaonapo, who previously led the Vanuatu negotiating team to Honiara and successfully concluded the long-standing maritime boundary talks with the Solomon Islands in 2015.

In his opening statement at the first day of the negotiations, MP Koanapo said the directions of the Vanuatu Government that no negotiations in regard to the maritime boundary may take place without discussing the issue of sovereignty over Matthew and Hunter Islands being place at the negotiating table.

He further stated that the Vanuatu Government continues to remind itself that one of the legacies of colonialism that it is eager to resolve is the dispute over Umaenupe (Matthew) and Leka (Hunter) Islands which is part of Vanuatu’s identity.

He said the two islands Umaenupe and Leka, belong to the country’s forefathers’ customary islands and continue to remain and integral part, embedded in the sacred rituals and cultural activities today.

“Our National interests and priorities are deeply rooted in our culture,’’he said.

With regard to the French proposal, the Vanuatu’s head of delegation reaffirmed Vanuatu’s position that peaceful negotiations to achieve an amicable solution remains the key to the ongoing overall boundary talks.

He said that future negotiations should include the Kanak people and most importantly that issues relating to maritime boundary must be in accordance with international law.

“The Vanuatu government is pleased that the negotiations were very positive and showed signs of willingness from both parties to find solutions to the maritime boundaries. It is thankful to the government of France for agreeing to come to the table in order to discuss issues concerning the maritime boundaries. The negotiation was concluded with the signing of an outcome. Vanuatu and France agreed that the next round of negotiations will be held in June.’’