The war of words in New Caledonia over the planned sale of the Vale nickel company has intensified.
Its Brazilian owner had been negotiating a sale of its 95 percent stake to New Century Resources of Australia, but indigenous groups in the area are opposed to it.
They said the Vale plant and its ore should instead be sold to the SMSP nickel conglomerate of the Northern Province which had a stake in South Korea.
This prompted the president of the Southern Province, Sonia Backes, to ask the chiefs to back off, adding that SMSP had large debts.
In turn, SMSP rejected her comment, saying it was not worthy of a public institution.
It said financial statements, produced annually, showed its assets.
The dispute comes as New Caledonia approaches a referendum on independence from France in October, with the south largely backing the status quo while the north still keen to attain all sovereign rights.
The Vale plant was put up for sale in December after running up losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Vale, which acquired the project when it took over the Canadian miner Inco in 2006, was estimated to have spent $US9 billion on the Goro plant.
Part of Vale's pre-sale restructure included the sale of nickel ore but pro-independence parties firmly opposed changes to the mining code to allow this.
Vale's changes involved prioritising the production of NHC, or nickel hydroxide cake, which was in demand for batteries for electric vehicles.
Vale's head was reported to have met Elon Musk of Tesla in March to discuss nickel and cobalt production.