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The Contemporary Pacific 15.2 (2003) 448-456

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New Caledonia

Kanaky New Caledonia is still a work in progress, a multiethnic society seeking "a common destiny," as proposed by the Noumea Accord of 1998. France, which "took possession" of the territory by unilateral decree almost 150 years ago, continues to play an ambivalent role as peacemaker among the ethnic and political factions that its own policies helped to create. The year 2002 saw lingering tensions over such issues as power sharing in the local government, nickel mining development, relations between immigrants and indigenous Kanak, and the impact of elections at the local, French presidential, and parliamentary levels. Nevertheless, the territory continued to move fitfully toward self-government and expanded its role as an increasingly autonomous entity in the region.

In January 2002, the pro-independence Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) sent to Paris a delegation of nine leaders, headed by Pascal Naouna, to address issues of concern. With French national elections approaching, the FLNKS wanted to remind Premier Lionel Jospin and President Jacques Chirac of a number of items: that the issue of restricting the local electorate to long-term residents was still not resolved; that "collegiality" (consultation in decision-making) in the territorial executive was still lacking, as the loyalist Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (RPCR) dominated local politics; that immigrants with better diplomas continued to displace locals in the job market, especially with a new nickel boom underway; that the nickel mining project at Goro by Inco, a Canadian multinational, had still not allocated shares to the territory; that violence over land continued between the Wallisian and Kanak communities in St Louis; and that the special accord between New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna, proposed by the Noumea Accord, remained unresolved (NC,19 Jan 2002).

RPCR President Jacques Lafleur chose not to attend the annual Noumea Accord follow-up meeting, for "personal reasons," and dissension showed within the FLNKS party: it had failed to elect a president at its annual congress in December 2001 and had to send a committee to Paris (PIR,23 Jan 2002). But Chirac met with both the FLNKS coalition and an RPCR delegation led by territorial president Pierre Frogier in what was described as a long and friendly discussion. Naouna raised the electorate issue, urging a vote by the French Parliament on the constitutional amendment proposed in 1998, but Frogier said that the issue was not urgent, because it would only affect the vote on the future of the territory in fifteen years. Frogier told the press that since the consensual accord of 1998 New Caledonia has been on the path of economic development and social harmony, and that Chirac clearly loved the territory, having visited it often. For his part, Chirac met with a delegation from Wallis and Futuna and felt that a special accord with New Caledonia was imminent (NC,28 Jan 2002). Most Wallisians in New Caledonia vote loyalist out of economic necessity, and Chirac's local allies won a majority in the Territorial Assembly [End Page 448] in Wallis and Futuna in a March election (PIR,13 March 2002). One branch of the Wallisian diaspora, however, the Rassemblement Démocratique Océanien (RDO), is a member of the FLNKS. Its president, Aloisio Sako, vowed, "We want to rally around the Kanak to build the country with them" (PIR,19 Feb 2002).

In January, French Overseas Secretary Christian Paul promised more economic aid to develop Wallis and Futuna's infrastructure, investment incentives, and educational system, in order to diminish the flow of migrants to New Caledonia and thus reduce the chances of ethnic conflict with indigenous Kanak (PIR,25 Jan 2002). By the end of the year, France agreed to invest more than US$25 million to end Wallis and Futuna's "isolation" and transform the local economy from a subsistence base to more "extroverted" activity, although the details of that territory's accord with New Caledonia remained unresolved (PIR,23 Dec 2002). TheWallisian diaspora, now 20,000 strong (or about 10 percent of the population on Grande...