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By Michael J. Field

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (April 22,1998 - Agence France-Presse)---Foreign Minister Don McKinnon said Wednesday New Zealand "warmly welcomed" accords on the future of the French colony of New Caledonia but Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka was less happy.

The pro- and anti-independence forces of New Caledonia struck a deal providing for a vote on autonomy later this year. They appear to have taken a big step away from independence.

The 200,000 inhabitants will vote in December on whether or not to give New Caledonia its own government and greater powers of autonomy.

The 20-year life of the Noumea Accords will see a progressive transfer of control from France to New Caledonia, although defense, justice, fiscal control, public order and some areas of foreign relations will not be excluded.

Executive authority will move from the French High Commissioner to a Local Collegiate Executive elected by the Legal Congress, which will be able to vote on decisions carrying the weight of local laws.

A referendum in New Caledonia is proposed after 20, or possibly 15, years to decide whether the remaining controls should be transferred, which would carry New Caledonia to full nationhood.

The agreement followed two months of talks between the government, the separatist Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) and the loyalist Rally for Caledonia in the Republic (RPCR).

Rabuka, also Chairman of the Melanesian Spearhead Group of nations, commented on the outcome briefly at a press conference in Suva. He appeared to be less than fully briefed. He said if independence for New Caledonia was to be delayed 15 to 20 years it was a "retrograde step."

He said he expected the Spearhead Group, made up of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the FLNKS, was likely to make a statement on the outcome.

He added that the United Nations Decolonization Committee, which will meet in Nadi next month, could also be expected to make a statement, too.

McKinnon welcomed the outcome.

"New Zealand warmly welcomes the signing of these Accords, which set out a 20-year program for increasing autonomy in New Caledonia," said McKinnon in a statement.

"All three parties, the FLNKS, the RPCR and the French State, have clearly demonstrated a mature and thoughtful approach to what has been a difficult political process."

McKinnon said the agreement demonstrated a shared will and determination by all concerned to carry the relationship between France and New Caledonia forward.

"New Zealand recognizes that more work remains to be done before the agreement can come into force, but we warmly welcome the open approach of each partner to the negotiations and, in particular, the innovation and flexibility demonstrated by the French State," McKinnon said.

"New Zealand looks forward to continuing its regional partnership with France, as well as building on its already close friendship with New Caledonia."

Michael J. Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-MAIL:

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