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Saint Lucia Rejects “Back Door” Attempt to Impose French Sanctuary in OECS Waters

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Frigate Bay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, June 19, 2006:-- Saint Lucia's Fisheries Minister, Ignatius Jean, has condemned an effort by France – with backing from a Martinique-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) – to impose a marine mammal sanctuary in disputed waters shared between its Caribbean colonies and neighbouring independent English-speaking states.


Robin Des Bois, a French observer delegate at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) indicated last month that France “will officially launch its project to create a sanctuary for marine mammals in the French Antilles and their adjacent Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).”


In a Press Release dated May 29, 2006 which was circulated at the 58th annual conference of the IWC taking place here, Des Bois said the project “will be committed to France's Plan of Action for Oceans, as well as its National biodiversity Strategy, in line with previously established sanctuaries in the Mediterranean, New Caledonia and French Polynesia.”


The matter was raised during the plenary on June 18, by Madeleine de la Grand Maison, one of the French delegates to the meeting.



But the Saint Lucia Fisheries minister, who also has responsibility for Agriculture and Forestry, said France seemed to be seeking to impose the sanctuary, “through the back door,” on unsuspecting neighbouring island states such as St. Lucia and Dominica, which share the same territorial waters as its Caribbean colonies.


“St. Lucia is one of the countries in the region with the most intimate historical relations with France,” Jean told the IWC meeting, “but on the matter of a sanctuary, we part company.”


He noted, “with regret,” that “the matter has been discussed (by France) with non-government organisations (NGOs) around the region, but not with the independent neighbouring states that would be affected.”


This is a blatant disregard for the Governments and people of those states,” Jean told the IWC plenary.

He pointed out that “at present, negotiations are under way at the highest political levels in the Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in an attempt to resolve several matters of delimitation, including the agreed EEZ between France and Saint Lucia.”


Jean said the matter of maritime delimitation in the area for the proposed French sanctuary was “a delicate issue” which also included discussions between CARICOM and Venezuela over the status of Aves Island (or Bird Island) which is being claimed by both Venezuela and Dominica.


“Until there is a resolution of these outstanding issues,” the St. Lucia minister pointed out, “no sanctuary can be established by France in those disputed waters.”


He also indicated that the IWC “does not have the competence to undertake any decision or determination on the establishment of a sanctuary in the Eastern Caribbean.”



Saint Lucia and Dominica are wary that France's bidding is being undertaken surreptitiously by a Martinique-based NGO known to be antagonistic to those OECS and CARICOM member-states which support Japan's pro-sustainable use stance at the IWC.


Called the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness (ECCEA), it also claims to be active in the OECS with representative “branches” at a private residence in Dominica and a newspaper office in Grenada.


The Chief Executive Officer of the ECCEA is Leslie Sutty, said to be a British national now residing in Martinique, who is better known for her annual campaigns against the OECS member-states that receive fisheries assistance from Japan.


Representatives of the OECS territories involved say Sutty has insultingly accused them of being “client states” of Japan that “sell their votes” and “compromise their sovereignty in return for aid.”




Sutty and Des Bois acknowledged -- in their joint press release of May 29 – that the French proposal “has both geopolitical and geographical implications, as the sanctuary is situated between island nations that support whaling, the Commonwealth of Dominica and Saint Lucia.”


They also claimed that “Other states, such as Montserrat, Barbados and the Virgin Islands, may eventually adhere to the French initiative...”


But opponents of the move point out that while Barbados is an independent state, Montserrat is a British colony in the Caribbean, while the Virgin Islands are colonies of both Britain and the USA in the region.


Sutty and Des Bois say that “adhesion by island states such as Dominica and Saint Lucia” to the proposed French sanctuary “is highly desirable.”


But the Saint Lucia minister says “much more is involved” and he views the proposed initiative with “a certain degree of suspicion.”



According to Jean, there were problems between France's colonies and their neighbours that first had to be addressed.


“Our biggest problem in our fisheries in the region and Saint Lucia is with illegal fishing and poaching by fishermen from our neighbouring French territories,” he told the IWC meeting.


“They have mismanaged their marine resources in the French Islands and now they are engaging in rampant poaching of our Queen conch, lobsters and other delicacies,” he explained.




Jean accused France and the ECCEA of engaging in “the typical political strategy of appearing to be doing something for the environment and using the protection of whales as a mask for their real and hidden intentions.”


“However,” he continued, “no attempt is being made by France and their NGO allies to mitigate the risk of pollution of the Caribbean Sea by the transshipment of nuclear waste through our waters.”


“If France wants to establish a sanctuary in their EEZ, then this is their prerogative,” the minister said, “but we will not support it without a conclusion to the outstanding issues affecting the boundary delimitation for Eastern Caribbean states.”




We have fought hard for our political independence and we will not entertain any new form of colonialism,” Jean declared.


He said Saint Lucia was “giving notice, at this 58th IWC meeting, as we celebrate 25 years of the Treaty of Basseterre which established the OECS, that our sovereign rights must be respected.”


“We simply cannot and will not support this proposal for an extension of the French sanctuary into our waters, until and unless there is appropriate consultation and the interests of the affected neighbouring states are adequately addressed.”



Referring to the passion with which the proposal was being presented by Des Bois and the ECCEA activists in the name of France, the Saint Lucia Fisheries Minister said he hoped “that there will be equal passion for treating this matter politically.”


Sutty and Des Bois claim that France's decision to extend the sanctuary into the disputed waters “strengthens the initial proposal of the ECCEA” and promised to help get support for the French proposal at the national and international levels.


They said other partners in the French project also include the French Regional Direction of the Environment (DIREN) and the Regional Councils of the French Antilles.


But the representatives of Saint Lucia and Dominica insist that their governments will continue to view the proposal with suspicion and will not entertain it until and unless there is direct discussion and negotiation between France and the independent states concerned.

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