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PARIS, France (July 7, 1998 - Radio Australia)---France's two houses of Parliament have voted overwhelmingly in favor of amending the French constitution to ease the way for the Pacific territory of New Caledonia to gain independence.

The amendment, passed by the required three-fifths of the vote, will enable the enactment of the Nouméa Accord.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin says the Nouméa peace agreement will enable New Caledonians to affirm their own identity and exercise growing responsibility for public affairs.

The accord provides for step-by-step devolution for the territory's 200,000 people ahead of an independence referendum in 15 to 20 years.

Beginning next year, both indigenous Melanesian Kanaks and eligible settlers will be given specific New Caledonian citizenship.

Also under the agreement, France will introduce indigenous Kanak customary law alongside French legislation.

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