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French Pacific newspaper faces new pressure from customary police

(PINA/IFEX) - On 2 April 2002, "Te Fenua Fo'ou", the weekly newspaper of the French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna, said it has faced new pressures from the customary law enforcers of Wallis Island's traditional king. An e-mail message from editor-in-chief Laurent Gourlez said that furniture was damaged and the phone ripped out. The incident occurred after the 29 March edition of "Te Fenua Fo'ou" was printed and distributed from another French Pacific territory, New Caledonia.

The king's customary police previously seized computer equipment and stopped publication of the 22 March edition of the newspaper. The move came amidst tension between the traditional ruler, called the "Lavelua", and the newspaper's publisher, Michel Bodineau, and editor-in-chief Gourlez, the regional news service PINA Nius Online reported. Both Bodineau and Gourlez are French.

According to the e-mail message, Bodineau called on French police in Wallis to investigate the incidents. He questioned why no one had been arrested for what he described as repeated vandalism against "Te Fenua Fo'ou".

Background Information

"Te Fenua Fo'ou" is normally published from Wallis, home of the territorial capital, Mata Utu. It circulates in Wallis and Futuna and New Caledonia, where many people from Wallis and Futuna have migrated to work.

"Te Fenua Fo'ou" and the traditional leadership of Wallis Island, called "Uvea" by the islanders, have been in dispute over coverage of a court decision involving an election candidate supported by the king. The traditional leadership was reported to have protested against the coverage and a photo characterisation published in "Te Fenua Fo'ou".

"Te Fenua Fo'ou" said in an earlier editorial that it "would not make concessions to the principle of freedom of expression, as guaranteed under the laws of the French Republic. Though it is not a newspaper's role to make comments on court decisions, it is its duty to report the way it is enforced." The traditional leadership is reported to have said that France has guaranteed to respect the customs and traditions of the islanders.

Wallis and Futuna is north-east of Fiji. It consists of two main islands, Wallis and Futuna, more than 200 kilometres apart, and smaller surrounding islands.

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