31 May 2021

New Caledonia talks continue in Paris

5:20 pm on 31 May 2021

French-sponsored talks on New Caledonia's future continue in Paris this week as the 1998 Noumea Accord will expire next year.

Kanak and French flags on Ouvea island.

Kanak and French flags on Ouvea island. Photo: AFP

In line with the accord, a third independence referendum is due to be held no later than October 2022, with Paris expected to announce a date for the vote this month.

The Paris talks, launched last week at the behest of Prime Minister Jean Castex, are being attended by New Caledonia's anti-independence leaders but only one of the two factions of the main pro-independence movement, the FLNKS.

A working document tabled by the French government is at the centre of the week-long consultations, outlining France's view of the implications of either a yes or no vote.

In the preceding referendums in 2018 and 2020, almost 57 percent and then just over 53 percent voted against independence, with the electorate largely split along ethnic lines and a vast majority of indigenous Kanaks opting for full sovereignty.

Speaking in Paris, New Caledonia's anti-independence caretaker president Thierry Santa said people needed to recognise that independence was impossible because New Caledonia lacks the human, social, economic or financial capacity to go it alone.

New Caledonia referendum posters

Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Walter Zweifel

However, Gilbert Tyuienon of the pro-independence Caledonian Union said a transition period was envisaged to accommodate a move to full independence.

Daniel Goa, who heads the Caledonian Union, said after the gradual and irreversible transfer of powers from France to New Caledonia, the only solution was the territory's emancipation.

Goa says the way out of the decolonisation process is not a unilateral affair but is a matter with the approval of the United Nations.

The powers still under French control pertain to defence, policing, the judiciary, monetary policy and foreign affairs.

The discussions, which so far involved the overseas minister Sebastien Lecornu, will this week also involve the foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

A meeting with President Emmanuel Macron has not been excluded.

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