9 Dec 2021

MSG member states urged to push for postponed referendum

2:06 pm on 9 December 2021

The Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat has called on member states to not recognise New Caledonia's independence referendum this weekend.

France is proceeding with the vote despite pleas from the indigenous Kanaks of New Caledonia for a postponement. Pro-independence parties say they won't take part in the vote or recognise its result.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group headquarters in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group headquarters in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Photo: RNZI / Jamie Tahana

Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, who along with the FLNKS movement of New Caledonia's Kanaks are full MSG members, have been informed by the secretariat of its concerns.

In a press release, the MSG's Director General, George Hoa'au said the situation in New Caledonia was not conducive for a free and fair referendum.

Covid-19 related deaths in New Caledonia have been mostly Kanaks. Still undergoing customary mourning, Melanesian communities have been unable to campaign for the vote.

In this regard, Hoa'au said the international community must understand that customary and traditional ceremonies relating to the passing away of loved ones are the most sacred in Melanesian societies and religiously must be respected.

The MSG Secretariat had been holding numerous bilateral meetings with the FLNKS on the political situation in New Caledonia, and voiced concern about the way in which the 3rd referendum under the Noumea Accord was being progressed.

Two previous referendums, in 2018 and 2020, were won by anti-independence supporters, but the winning margin was increasingly narrow.

Hoa'au made an urgent appeal for leaders of the four independent MSG states to encourage France to defer the referendum, although Vanuatu has already backed the call for a postponement.

The current state of affairs in New Caledonia is not favourable to the future political aspirations of the FLNKS and Kanak people as it will pose negative implications on the outcome of the referendum, he said.

"Hence the MSG Secretariat is calling on MSG Members to lobby the support of the international community to support the call by FLNKS for the deferment of the 3rd referendum to a later date, when the conditions in New Caledonia improves, preferably in 2022."

Leaders of Melanesian Spearhead Group gather for a meeting in Noumea, June 2013.

Support for Kanaks' self-determination aspirations is strong within the MSG: the FLNKS' spokesman Victor Tutugoro (yellow shirt and hat) welcomes MSG delegates for a summit in Noumea Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Letters from Hoa'au conveying the secretariat's call were dispatched to the prime ministers of PNG, Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands yesterday.

"There is an urgent need for MSG Leaders to engage France through the various diplomatic channels available on the wish of FLNKS to defer the 3rd referendum and call for greater transparency and fairness in the conduct of the referendum particularly given the difficulties posed by Covid-19," Hoa'au said.

"This is a crucial time for Melanesian People in New Caledonia to decide their own future but unfortunately MSG sees France uniliteral decision against the Noumea Accord as not facilitative and unfair."

The MSG secretariat said the referendum date should be agreed by both parties in the spirit of consultation and dialogue under the Noumea Accord.

"The MSG Secretariat is urging its Leaders and those who commit themselves to support the total eradication of colonialism around the world, consistent with United Nations resolution, not to recognise the outcome of the 3rd Referendum on the 12 December 2021 if France pursues without the participation of the indigenous people."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs