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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (December 23, 1998 - Radio Australia)---The French parliament has passed a bill giving New Caledonia sweeping powers of self-government.

The bill, which had broad support across all parties, calls for a gradual and irreversible transfer of powers from Paris to a New Caledonian government, except for five areas.

Those areas are justice, law and order, money, credit and foreign exchange.

The executive of government will be elected by a congress and answerable to the congress.

The congress, to include members of the three provincial assemblies, will adopt "territorial laws" which in New Caledonia will supercede those voted by the France National Assembly.

In 15 to 20 years time, Caledonian citizens with at least 20 years residence, will be asked if they want full independence.

Radio Australia Pacific correspondent Richard Dinnen reports:

"The vote was the final step in the long process of determining how New Caledonia will be governed in future.

"The French Parliament approved the terms of the Noumea Accord, which was signed in May, after years of complex negotiations.

"Now that the bill has passed, a gradual but irreversible transfer of powers from Paris to a new local government can begin. France retains control of key areas such as justice, foreign exchange and law and order, but New Caledonia will soon be able to make its own laws, which will supersede those previously made for the Territory by the French Parliament.

"Elections for the new government will be held before the end of next year.

"After a transitional period of 15 to 20 years, the New Caledonian Government or France may call a referendum in which people who have lived in the Territory for at least 20 years will be asked if they want full independence."

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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