French Polynesian politicians have arrived in Auckland en masse to seek the backing of the Pacific Islands Forum and the United Nations in their bid for independence from France.
President Oscar Temaru held a press conference in Auckland yesterday with eight members of their 57-strong Assembly, including Speaker Jacqui Taimatahi Drollet, and with one of Tahiti's two members of the French Senate, Senator Richard Ariihau Tuheiava.
Mr Temaru has sought the forum's backing in the past to be added to the United Nations' list of countries for decolonisation.
But this is the first time he has come with a resolution passed by a majority of the Assembly for such a move.
And it is also the first time a United Nations' Secretary-General or French Foreign Minister will be at the Pacific Islands Forum.
Mr Temaru said he was seeking a resolution of support from the forum.
"We also know that the French Government is fooling around trying to put pressure on those countries not to support that issue.
"We need the United Nations to be in the middle as a referee for every important issue that we have to talk to the French Government [about]. He said he was optimistic for the first time that the forum would back him.
"But we also pray [to] God to speak to the heart of the leaders and let them hear our cry, our appeal for freedom and peace."
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully told the Herald last night that he would listen attentively to any messages the French Polynesians wanted to give.
"But at the end of the day, the practical reality is that resolving this long-standing issue is going to require dialogue between Polynesia and Paris and we would be encouraging them to conduct that dialogue."
Mr Temaru is seeking a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in Auckland this week.
He said he was not seeking a meeting with French Foreign Minister and former French Prime Minister Alain Juppe, who is also due to arrive later in the week.
Mr Temaru already has the support of three forum leaders, Papua New Guinea's Peter O'Neill, the Solomon Islands' Danny Philip and Tuvalu's Willy Telavi who signed up to a communique in Fiji last week on eight issues, one of them backing the reinscription of French Polynesia on the UN decolonisation committee's list.
The French territory was on the list until 1947 when it was removed.
The Pacific Conference of Churches, which met in Samoa last week, also backed re-inscription.
French Polynesia is an associate member of the Pacific Islands Forum which formally begins on Wednesday.
Mr Temaru is expected to be given an opportunity to address the meeting.
France has a different attitude to another Pacific French territory, New Caledonia, which will hold a referendum on independence between 2014 and 2018, under an agreement reached in 1998.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was in New Caledonia this month to open the Pacific Games, said he would respect the decision.By Audrey Young Email Audrey