Tensions rise in New Caledonia as it mulls a break with France – by Michael Field (Nikkei Asian Review – March 16, 2017)


Bougainville and Guam are also moving toward referendums on constitutional status

AUCKLAND Due east of Australia, the Pacific island of New Caledonia is mulling a final break from France, ending a relationship lasting more than 150 years. In a referendum that will take place next year, islanders will vote on the issue of independence.

The wording of the referendum question to be asked has not been determined, and neither has the eligible electorate. Tensions have been building, prompting Paris to dispatch 50 additional security officers to the territory. They arrived in February, but attacks on police have continued, wounding three and drawing condemnation from authorities.

Sonia Backes, a senior pro-French politician in New Caledonia, has been critical of what she sees as Paris’ soft line. This month she demanded the prosecution of an indigenous politician who called whites in New Caledonia “immigrants.” “UNBEARABLE REMARKS” “These remarks are unbearable,” she said, adding that those who say such things should be prosecuted for “inciting racial hatred.”

New Caledonia, a self-governing island with a population of 260,000, has been ruled by France since 1853, but communal relations have been repeatedly scarred by failed revolts and violence between the indigenous inhabitants, known as Kanaks, and French settlers.

A 1987 referendum asked whether the territory should remain part of France. However, it was boycotted by the pro-independence group Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste after Paris refused to allow U.N. supervision of the vote. Only 1.7% of voters backed independence then.

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