New Caledonia: boycotts and blockade – by Denise Fisher (The Interpreter – August 31, 2018)

The Interpreter is published by the Lowy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan think tank based in Sydney.

Preparations are under way for New Caledonia’s historic independence referendum just two months away. Ongoing constructive dialogue and peaceful campaigning have been marred by division and boycotts, and a worrying three-week long blockade over nickel mining by some young Kanaks.

The November referendum is the first of potentially three independence referendums over the next six years. Divisions are many and bitter. If the three referendums possible under the Noumea Accord do not result in a “yes” to independence, discussions must be held with the French state over the future.

So, establishing a habit of dialogue and discussion at this stage is an important confidence building step, as 30 years of predictability and peace under negotiated agreements come to an end.

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe’s Dialogue committee of party leaders, set up in November 2017 with the objective of setting a pattern of ongoing informal discussion, has been working hard, initially on areas that it was thought most leaders could agree on. The Committee managed to agree on the referendum date and question albeit only in Paris and with direct engagement by Philippe himself.

But ever since, three right-wing loyalist leaders have resolutely boycotted it, declining to sign on to its recently released Charter of Common Values, and Review of the implementation of the Noumea Accord. Only one of the boycotting leaders participated in a modified group last week, conducting a technical review of achievements so far.

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