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13:06

France: 'Closing the colonial chapter' - New Caledonia braces for independence referendum

France, Noumea, New Caledonia
April 27, 2018 at 14:37 GMT +00:00 · Published

The group of islands known as New Caledonia, some 750 miles (1,210km) off eastern Australia, has had more to do with Paris than the Pacific in modern times, yet this could all change as its 270,000 residents gear up for an historic independence referendum on November 4.

The question: ‘Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent? Yes or no.’

Despite the 19,500km (12,000 mile) distance, the country has been under French control since Napoleon III annexed the islands in 1853. The ties were further entrenched when New Caledonians, its native Kanak population, were granted French citizenship, and in 1946 the islands were absorbed as an overseas territory.

However, this colonial legacy is wearing thin on some of the archipelago’s residents.

Rock Wamytan, President of the UC-FLNKS et Nationalistes parliamentary group, is among them.

He claims that the referendum would 'close the colonial chapter.'

“In case the ‘yes’ wins, the country will become independent. We will, of course, put everything in place with the help of the French State, as promised by President Emmanuel Macron,” he said, highlighting what his opponents claim is New Caledonia’s reliance on Paris.

Sonia Backes, a loyalist and the President of the group Les Republicains in the New Caledonian Congress, is one such opponent.

Defying Wamytan, she feels that New Caledonia would not be able to sustain itself were it to cut ties to Metropolitan France, which oversees education, healthcare and the military.

"An independent New Caledonia would mean poverty for all and permanent conflicts because of its incapacity to have the resources to administrate itself," she explained, adding independence would be ‘dangerous’ and the 'worst solution.'

French presence is being brought under the microscope in November largely because of a two-decade-long agreement, the Noumea Accord, between Paris and New Caledonia which specified a referendum must be held before the start of 2019.

Macron himself is set to visit at the start of May as he battles to keep hold of the outpost.

Macron fuelled the debate by saying remaining was the only way of 'guaranteeing peace' but critics point to the archipelago’s wealth of natural resources, it is thought to be the home to around a third of the world's nickel, and multinational companies’ designs on them.

Melanesian Progressive Union leader Victor Tutugoro says New Caledonia's natural bounty is not being exploited as effectively as it could be.

"Despite three factories in the country and one offshore, we exploit only 12 percent of the mines. We could, for instance, enlarge the exploited zones," he said, adding the Caledonian economy would be able to sustain itself.

High levels of unemployment, crime and drug abuse have also left locals angry with what they see as French mismanagement.

Backes, however, denies France is responsible for the ongoing social plight.

"Today, New Caledonians have the possibility to access high education, regardless of their social or ethnic background. Everyone has access to free healthcare. And all of this is allowed by France," she says.

The debate, however, has not always been so civil. Blood has been spilt in the long run up to November 4.

Thirty-five hostages were taken in 1988, with militants murdering four paramilitary police officers in hope of forcing through independence.

France responded with force, freeing the hostages but killing most of the self-rule militants while two more policemen lost their lives.

"The day New Caledonia is independent, I will be free of the weight of a long fight that started in the 80s. I experienced every step of this fight, those who gave their lives, these things hurt," said Tutugoro.

Although a firm vote in favour of independence is unlikely - an April 2017 opinion poll showed that 54% of the population opposed it - the referendum is itself an exercise in the archipelago nation's right to self-determination.

And it probably won’t be the last time either.

The New Caledonian Congress can, should ‘No’ prevail, invoke a second or even third referendum giving pro-independence leaders yet more bites of the cherry.

After failed self-rule bids in 1958 and 1987, could 2018 be the year the islanders are able to govern themselves?

Follow this link to see French President Emmanuel Macron's first visit to the New Caledonian island of Ouvea: https://ruptly.tv/vod/20180505-006

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The group of islands known as New Caledonia, some 750 miles (1,210km) off eastern Australia, has had more to do with Paris than the Pacific in modern times, yet this could all change as its 270,000 residents gear up for an historic independence referendum on November 4.

The question: ‘Do you want New Caledonia to accede to full sovereignty and become independent? Yes or no.’

Despite the 19,500km (12,000 mile) distance, the country has been under French control since Napoleon III annexed the islands in 1853. The ties were further entrenched when New Caledonians, its native Kanak population, were granted French citizenship, and in 1946 the islands were absorbed as an overseas territory.

However, this colonial legacy is wearing thin on some of the archipelago’s residents.

Rock Wamytan, President of the UC-FLNKS et Nationalistes parliamentary group, is among them.

He claims that the referendum would 'close the colonial chapter.'

“In case the ‘yes’ wins, the country will become independent. We will, of course, put everything in place with the help of the French State, as promised by President Emmanuel Macron,” he said, highlighting what his opponents claim is New Caledonia’s reliance on Paris.

Sonia Backes, a loyalist and the President of the group Les Republicains in the New Caledonian Congress, is one such opponent.

Defying Wamytan, she feels that New Caledonia would not be able to sustain itself were it to cut ties to Metropolitan France, which oversees education, healthcare and the military.

"An independent New Caledonia would mean poverty for all and permanent conflicts because of its incapacity to have the resources to administrate itself," she explained, adding independence would be ‘dangerous’ and the 'worst solution.'

French presence is being brought under the microscope in November largely because of a two-decade-long agreement, the Noumea Accord, between Paris and New Caledonia which specified a referendum must be held before the start of 2019.

Macron himself is set to visit at the start of May as he battles to keep hold of the outpost.

Macron fuelled the debate by saying remaining was the only way of 'guaranteeing peace' but critics point to the archipelago’s wealth of natural resources, it is thought to be the home to around a third of the world's nickel, and multinational companies’ designs on them.

Melanesian Progressive Union leader Victor Tutugoro says New Caledonia's natural bounty is not being exploited as effectively as it could be.

"Despite three factories in the country and one offshore, we exploit only 12 percent of the mines. We could, for instance, enlarge the exploited zones," he said, adding the Caledonian economy would be able to sustain itself.

High levels of unemployment, crime and drug abuse have also left locals angry with what they see as French mismanagement.

Backes, however, denies France is responsible for the ongoing social plight.

"Today, New Caledonians have the possibility to access high education, regardless of their social or ethnic background. Everyone has access to free healthcare. And all of this is allowed by France," she says.

The debate, however, has not always been so civil. Blood has been spilt in the long run up to November 4.

Thirty-five hostages were taken in 1988, with militants murdering four paramilitary police officers in hope of forcing through independence.

France responded with force, freeing the hostages but killing most of the self-rule militants while two more policemen lost their lives.

"The day New Caledonia is independent, I will be free of the weight of a long fight that started in the 80s. I experienced every step of this fight, those who gave their lives, these things hurt," said Tutugoro.

Although a firm vote in favour of independence is unlikely - an April 2017 opinion poll showed that 54% of the population opposed it - the referendum is itself an exercise in the archipelago nation's right to self-determination.

And it probably won’t be the last time either.

The New Caledonian Congress can, should ‘No’ prevail, invoke a second or even third referendum giving pro-independence leaders yet more bites of the cherry.

After failed self-rule bids in 1958 and 1987, could 2018 be the year the islanders are able to govern themselves?

Follow this link to see French President Emmanuel Macron's first visit to the New Caledonian island of Ouvea: https://ruptly.tv/vod/20180505-006

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S View of Noumea

M/S People jogging

M/S People jogging

M/S Locals

M/S Child

W/S New Caledonian government building

W/S New Caledonian government building entrance

M/S New Caledonian government building

M/S New Caledonian Congress

M/S New Caledonian Congress

C/U Wood statue

M/S Flags of France and New Caledonia

M/S President of the UC-FLNKS et Nationalistes parliamentary group Rock Wamytan

M/S Wamytan at office's desk

SOT, Rock Wamytan, President of the UC-FLNKS et Nationalistes parliamentary group (French): “In case the ‘yes’ wins, the country will become independent. We will of course put everything in place with the help of the [French] State, as promised by President Macron. He made us this promise, we didn't forget it."

M/S Wamytan picking up papers

SOT, Rock Wamytan, President of the UC-FLNKS et Nationalistes parliamentary group (French): "If the ‘no’ wins, it will only be the first referendum, and there will be a second referendum and a third one. So we have time to convince the people, mostly non-Kanaks, as they are the ones generally voting against independence. It’s in their future interest to form this country. We managed to share this idea with them. They just need to not refuse it, as our goal is to go as far as possible, which is, for us, to close the colonial chapter with France.”

M/S Wamytan reading papers

C/U Wamytan

C/U Wamytan writing

SOT, Rock Wamytan, President of the UC-FLNKS et Nationalistes parliamentary group (French): "We already thought of every way to live without the 153 billion [CFP currency - money received from France in 2015, US $1.5bn]. We need to remember that the 153 billion are mostly sovereignty expenses, the army, defense, security, justice, etc. So we have asked ourselves this question for a long time: in a country of 200 000 or 250 000 inhabitants, do we need all these structures that go along with a country of over 65 million people? The answer is no."

C/U New Caledonian flag on office wall

C/U Poster on office wall

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S View of Noumea

M/S Children playing

C/U New Caledonian flag

C/U French flag

SOT, Annick, New Caledonia resident, (Yes voter), (French): "I don’t know what we are going to become without France. Therefore I would like independence but with France, with its support."

M/S People sitting on a bench

SOT, Claude, New Caledonia resident (No voter), (French): "We are a small country. Things are good as they are. We depend on France, we are too far away from everything. I don’t know what we would become without France. Financially, France helps a lot. Moreover, we have always got along well between ethnic groups so I don’t see the point in becoming independent."

M/S Building

W/S President of the group Les Republicains Sonia Backes in her office

M/S Sonia Backes on phone

C/U Statue of Marianne, a national symbol of France

SOT, Sonia Backes, loyalist, President of the group Les Republicains in the New Caledonian Congress (French): "For me, an independent New Caledonia would mean poverty for all and permanent conflicts because of its incapacity to have the means to govern itself and therefore difficulties to provide healthcare for all or access to higher education. I really think that independence for New Caledonia would be the worst solution."

C/U Referendum poster

SOT, Sonia Backes, loyalist, President of the group Les Republicains in the New Caledonian congress (French): "We are too small. We are only 250,000 [inhabitants]. If we imagined a local justice: everyone know each other, so it would be impossible to have an impartial justice. Therefore, independence would really be dangerous for New Caledonia."

M/S Backes in office

C/U Backes

C/U Backes with laptop

C/U Backes

SOT, Sonia Backes, loyalist, President of the group Les Republicains in the New Caledonian congress (French): "In the independentist localities, in the North and in the Islands, there are only Kanak representatives elected. So we are no longer in a colonisation situation as, in the end, France’s role is to offer financial support to enable New Caledonia to live without decisions being imposed from France."

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S People in restaurant

M/S Melanesian Progressive Union leader Victor Tutugoro at table

C/U Tutugoro drinking wine

C/U Victor Tutugoro

SOT, Victor Tutugoro, Melanesian Progressive Union leader (French): "When we study, we realise that compared to other places, we live in a country that is still based on too many colonial privileges.”

C/U Tutugoro

SOT, Victor Tutugoro, Melanesian Progressive Union leader (French): "We still have very few judges, doctors because today, we can make it but we still need special measures to get there."

W/S Tutugoro at cafe

SOT, Victor Tutugoro, Melanesian Progressive Union leader (French): "But when we compare to our neighbours, Vanuatu or Fiji, or even in Melanesia, countries manage to have doctors, judges, lawyers. Everything that a modern society can expect. But we still can’t achieve this in New Caledonia."

M/S Tutugoro

SOT, Victor Tutugoro, Melanesian Progressive Union leader (French): "I think that it [the independence] will be essentially symbolic. A lot of responsibilities are already locally managed, by the government or the provinces. At the moment, the sovereign responsibilities are taken care of by France, and I don’t think that this will change."

M/S Tutugoro at cafe

SOT, Victor Tutugoro, Melanesian Progressive Union leader (French): "New Caledonia has almost a third of the world’s resources of nickel. But despite three factories in the country and one offshore, we only exploit only 12 percent of the mines. We could for instance enlarge the exploited zones to partially fill the gap."

M/S Tutugoro at cafe

C/U Men at Tutugoro's table

C/U Man at Tutugoro's table

C/P Tutugoro's hands

SOT, Victor Tutugoro, Melanesian Progressive Union leader (French): "The day New Caledonia is independent, I will be free of the weight of a long fight that started in the '80s when Francois Mitterrand become President."

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S Drone view *NO SOUND AT SOURCE*

W/S View of Noumea

M/S Noumea

SOT, Jim, New Caledonia resident (Yes voter) (French): "New Caledonia already has the means to become independent. Regarding certain required competences, Caledonia already has them. About our Nickel resources, some people will say that they are not inexhaustible. But if we look aside, we see that Caledonia already has other resources, like tourism. We have a lot. For me, Caledonia is a country that is rich thanks to its culture, its environment, its landscapes. If one day, there is no more nickel, Caledonia can still make it. For me, Caledonia must become independent. Today or tomorrow, but it will become independent.."

M/S Children

SOT, New Caledonia resident, (No voter) (French): "We don’t have enough Kanak doctors. We still rely on France to have judges for example."

W/S Building

M/S Woman on roof

W/S Beach

W/S Beach

W/S View of Noumea

M/S Harbour

M/S People on pier

W/S View of Noumea

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