18 May 2011

Paris consults New Caledonia leaders over Noumea's political woes

3:18 pm on 18 May 2011

The French prime minister, Francois Fillon, has begun three days of talks in Paris with New Caledonian leaders in a bid to solve the territory's political crisis.

Four governments in Noumea have collapsed this year amid a deepening row over which flag the territory should use.

A law change is being proposed by Paris to give a New Caledonian government an 18-month grace period to end serial resignations as seen this year.

Mr Fillon has so far met the Rassemblement/UMP leader, Pierre Frogier, who says he is already looking at the period after 2014 when the Noumea Accord on greater autonomy enters its last phase.

The leader of the Caledonia Together Party, Philippe Gomes, emerged from his meeting with Mr Fillon to say that the planned change is a judicial patch on a political wound.

The prime minister's office says Mr Fillon wants to understand the New Caledonians' position and to prepare next month's gathering of the signatories of the Noumea Accord, which is the roadmap leading to a possible independence referendum after 2014.

In three months, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is due in Noumea on his only visit to the Pacific during his five-year term.