A leading New Caledonian anti-independence politician Pierre Frogier has taken exception to the French prime minister's use of the term New Caledonian people.
In his address to New Caledonia's Congress two weeks ago, Edouard Philippe said it would be the New Caledonian people who would decide about its sovereignty.
According to les Nouvelles Caledoniennes, Mr Frogier told his party's supporters that for him the New Caledonian people doesn't exist.
He says there is only a New Caledonian community within the French people.
Mr Frogier, who is a former president and now a member of the French Senate, fears the prime minister's choice of words opens the door to independence and association with France.
Mr Philippe affirmed in his speech that the independence referendum would take place by November.
Although the Noumea Accord provides for a vote on acceding full sovereignty, the exact referendum question is yet to be formulated.