NEW CALEDONIAN PARTIES AGREE TO KEEP TALKING

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PARIS, France (February 27, 1998 - Radio Australia)---Two days of talks on the future of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia have concluded in Paris.

They ended with a re-commitment from both pro- and anti-independence leaders to hold a referendum on the territory's future by the end of the year.

Radio Australia's Katy Cronin reports from Paris that while major differences between the parties remain, they have agreed to continue talking.

"Roch Wamytan, leader of the pro independence Kanak movement, the FLNKS, says the two sides approached each other cautiously but that the atmosphere was positive. The opposing parties had not spoken since talks broke down in 1996.

"However it seems some progress has been made and another round of negotiations will be held in Paris at the end of March.

"There has also been agreement to hold a referendum by the end of the year, as required in the 1988 Matignon Accords. However the nature of the question to be put to New Caledonians has not been decided, and the anti independence party, the RCPR, remains firmly opposed to the FLNKS proposal that New Caledonia become an associate state of France.

"Katy Cronin, Paris."

SECOND RADIO AUSTRALIA REPORT

Talks on the future of France's nickel-rich Pacific territory of New Caledonia have been adjourned until March 31 after three days of negotiations.

The talks in Paris, aimed at working out an independence formula with delegations from the separatist Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) and the anti-independence Rally for Caledonia in the Republic (RPCR).

The RPCR, close to France's Gaullist Party, favors autonomy within the French Republic for the territory, while the FLNKS says it would settle for an independence-cum-association agreement with France, along the lines of the Cook Islands' arrangement with New Zealand.

France's Overseas Territories Minister Jean-Jack Queyranne, said a definitive agreement might be reached by mid-May.

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