The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 541-551
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Department of History, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Melanesia in Review: Issues and Events, 2000
Year two of the Noumea Accord (Chappell 1999) saw continuing movement toward self-government but also ongoing tensions in the fragile consensus that produced the fifteen-to-twenty-year agreement in 1998. In a May issue of l'Express a scathing article entitled, "The Discords of Noumea" (Conan 2000), highlighted contradictory interpretations by the signatories of what the accord meant, a lack of collegiality in the territorial congress, growing disunity among Kanak politicians, disputes over the provincial shares of a partial localization of the Société le Nickel (SLN), and arguments over the role of indigenous Kanak custom in forming a common nationhood among diverse, often polarized, ethnic groups. It was a year filled with discord, but in October the country tried to put on a hopeful face by hosting the eighth Festival of Pacific Arts, a regional honor that its political strife had canceled fifteen years earlier.
Having experienced tragic intercommunal bloodshed in the 1980s, New Caledonian leaders voiced no support for the actions of extremists in neighboring Fiji in May2000.Rock Wamytan, president of the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) condemned the Fijian coup attempt by George Speight:"The nationalist claims of Melanesians must be taken into account, but in a democratic framework." Wamytan blamed Britain for the ethnic crisis in Fiji, but he also recommended that Indo-Fijians take steps to share economic power with native Fijians (NC,25 May 2000). Likewise, Leopold Jorédié, Kanak vice-president of the New Caledonian executive council, said his government "will not support a coup. To us, it is obvious that any government must come out of the will of the people" (PIR 25 May 2000). Aloisio Sako, president of the Wallisian Rassemblement Démocratique Océanien (RDO), called the Fijian coup a dangerous case of misdirected ethnic antagonism that trampled on fundamental human rights (Sako 2000).
The issue of "collegiality" in the congress had come up soon after the 1999 elections, when millionaire Jacques Lafleur's loyalist Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (RPCR) gained a narrow [End Page 541] majority (28 to 26) by allying with Kanak dissidents of the Fédération des Comités de Coordination Indépendantistes (FCCI). This coalition enabled conservative Jean Lèques to become president of the new executive and Jorédié of the FCCI, vice-president--when both Paris and Wamytan had expected someone from the FLNKS to hold the latter position. In the cabinet, the RPCR-FCCI outnumbered the FLNKS 7 to 4, vindicating the concerns of critics like Gerard Jodor, of the pro-independence labor federation Union Syndicaliste des Travailleurs Kanak et Exploités (USTKE), who had predicted that the self-government measures delegated to the territory over the next generation by the Noumea Accord would simply replace French colonial rule with domination by Lafleur's local business "mafia" (Chappell 1999).
At the end of April, just before the second anniversary of the Noumea Accord, the four FLNKS cabinet ministers denounced the drift of the RPCR away from the consensual spirit of the accord. Wamytan accused the RPCR's dominating attitude of causing dysfunction in the country's institutions. The FLNKS had taken its complaints about lack of information-sharing to administrative court five times, because "the State must play its role of arbiter" (NC,29 Apr 2000). French Secretary of State for Overseas Administrations Jean-Jack Queyranne visited the territory in early May to plead for more consultation between the RPCR and the FLNKS, to honor the spirit of dialogue embedded in the 1998 accord. Although the first portfolios, such as primary education, had begun to be transferred from Paris to the Territorial Congress in January, "The French state has not withdrawn from New Caledonia," he said, "it is a full partner, a participant, and at the same time it must accompany New Caledonia in its evolution." Despite growing disarray within the FLNKS, Queyranne defended its status as one...