11 Jul 2011

France urges New Caledonia progress as end of Noumea Accord looms

2:17 pm on 11 July 2011

The French prime minister, Francois Fillon, has urged New Caledonia's top politicians to explore their options once the 1998 Noumea Accord expires.

He has hosted the leaders for a second time in a month.

Walter Zweifel has been following the story.


The Noumea Accord will enter into its final phase in 2014 when a vote could be held to decide if the territory should accede to full sovereignty.

But few seem to want such a referendum.

Francois Fillon says it's imperative the options be explored now.

"Frankly there is no choice; by 2014 the discussions will have to result in solutions that, from that date on, can be submitted to the people of New Caledonia for approval."

Paris will give expert help to work through the technicalities as the phased and irreversible transfer of power continues.

In the past year, there have been delays, in part as a political row over the choice of flag has erupted.

This led to four government collapses over the issue this year, and although the Noumea Accord doesn't provide for the joint use of the French and Kanak flags, most parties approve of the practice.

Mr Fillon also supports this.

The two flags will therefore continue to be flown until the joint search for this sign of identity, as outlined in the Noumea Accord, has succeeded.

Philippe Gomes, whose Caledonia Together Party objects to the two flag option, has taken heart from Mr Fillon's comments.

The Noumea accord has to be respected and that means that there has to be a flag for the common destiny. It has to incarnate the Kanak identity and be shared by all. This means the separatist FLNKS flag is only being flown while we're waiting for the common flag.

Mr Fillon has encouraged co-operation and acknowledges that a system of institutionalised power-sharing is a particular challenge.

It's a government that has to incarnate a consensus. These are severe constraints, they are constraints that lie heavily on New Caledonia's institutions that have to be absolutely restored so that the process can continue.

The president of the Northern province, Paul Neaoutyine, has told TV reporters in Paris that they'll have to find a way forward once they're back in Noumea.

We have to find the path of collegiality again and the Pacific consensus but that won't be found in Paris.

There is growing urgency to keep to the provisions of the Noumea Accord as the territory's institutional future has to be defined.

In the short term, there is an expectation that the politicians will be on their best behaviour as the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, visits New Caledonia next month on his only Pacific trip of his presidency.