NEW CALEDONIANS REMINDED OF CONVICT PAST

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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (December 14, 1997 - Radio Australia)---Some 300 people attended a ceremony Friday to mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the last convicts to the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia.

Between 1864 and 1879, over 35,000 convicts were sent to the South Pacific area, a French possession since 1853.

Most were criminals sentenced to hard labor, but the regular convoys also included political prisoners.

The ceremony Friday was organized by the group La Nouvelle, the name given to the prison island by French convicts. The group was founded three years ago by descendants of the prisoners.

Friday’s ceremony took place at the site where most convicts first landed.

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