NEW CALEDONIA NEWS

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Friday, June 18, 1999
Pacific Islands News Association (PINA)

FRENCH MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT IN NEW CALEDONIA AMIDST CONTROVERSY

NOUMEA (June 18, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---French Assistant Minister for Overseas Territories Jean-Jack Queyranne left New Caledonia on Thursday after a two-day visit to meet this French territory's first local government, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles reported here Friday.

The visit was marked by a controversy around the forthcoming vote by the French parliament in Paris of a bill establishing requirements under which residents in New Caledonia would be entitled to vote in an independence referendum in nine years.

The controversy was triggered by statements made in Paris by socialist MP René Dozière, who heads a committee on the bill in the French National Assembly.

Dozière was reported as saying the bill to freeze the list of registered voters as of 1998 would simply be voted as it is, without allowing any opportunity for suggestions from New Caledonia.

Anti-independence and RPCR (Rally for Caledonia with the Republic) leader Jacques Lafleur strongly reacted, saying Dozière's comments were "cynical" and "blackmail."

"We didn't need this kind of lecture. Many things we had already understood by ourselves. It was already a trick to link this issue to the increased autonomy of French Polynesia. But there is also some sort of cynicism in Dozière's words, something like 'if you don't get on together, we'll get tough on you.' And I don't think this is the way to speak, not to me anyway. I have never accepted this kind of stuff and I certainly am not going to start today. Dozière should have kept his mouth shut." an angry Lafleur told reporters after meeting Queyranne.

Queyranne, speaking on the issue, said, "I really would like to bring things back to what they really are. Those French citizens who were in New Caledonia in 1998 (when the Noumea Accords were signed) will be entitled to vote (in 2008).

"So no one will be excluded. But those who came later will not vote, either for the referendum or for congress or provincial elections."

Queyranne stressed the importance of power sharing under the new government of New Caledonia.

"This has to be the way to go. This is primarily what I came here to say. Because if each party, after signing the (Noumea) accords, went back to its earlier stand with the idea of scoring points against each other, it would obviously be difficult to bring life the spirit of the accords.

"This will require mutual respect, a search for consensus, without meaning that anyone should be forced to renounce their ideas. Power sharing should be the golden rule for times ahead," Queyranne said, while attending the first official meeting of the New Caledonian government in its brand new central Noumea offices.

Queyranne also announced a further three million U.S. dollars from Paris to help repair damages caused earlier this year by cyclones Dany and Ella.

The pro-independence FLNKS, which is largely excluded from the new government, voiced concerns with the French minister.

"There are drifts that could bring us backwards in the implementation of the Noumea accords, as compared to the spirit that prevailed throughout the talks that led to these accords. This is what we told M. Queyranne," FLNKS President Roch Wamytan said after meeting the envoy from Paris.

Wamytan said he was reassured by Queyranne.

"He shares the same analysis, which satisfies us. It's reassuring for the future. We'd really like to avoid the return of the old demons and get on with work together in the consensual spirit that is defined by the Noumea accords."

"May I remind you that we were never asked to be colonized," he added.

Queyranne conveyed a message from French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who said "he and his government would ensure promises sealed one year ago will be kept."

FRENCH MINISTER HAILS WARMER TIES BETWEEN PARIS AND WELLINGTON

NOUMEA (June 18, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---French assistant overseas minister Jean-Jack Queyranne on Thursday hailed the "spectacular warming" of ties between France and New Zealand, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reported here Friday.

Speaking at a press conference in Noumea after a two-day official visit in New Zealand, where he met Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and Foreign Minister Don McKinnon, Queyranne stressed that the ties between Paris and Wellington were "flourishing " after a "cold period." that followed the sinking of the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbor by French agents in 1985.

"Apart from an apparent will to reinforce ties at all levels between the two nations, our New Zealand friends are very interested in and positive about the new institutions France is giving its Pacific territories," he added.

"They even think that New Caledonia, for instance, now has its place as an observer in the South Pacific Forum," he told journalists.

Queyranne was in New Zealand on an official visit earlier this week and later this week spent two days in the French Territory of New Caledonia, where he met the newly-established local government of New Caledonia and its new President, Jean Lèques.

TRAFFIC SERIOUSLY DISRUPTED AS DOMESTIC AIR STRIKE DRAGS ON

NOUMEA (June 18, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---Domestic air links were seriously disrupted on Thursday as a result of a strike that could worsen, RFO-radio reported here Friday.

Only one plane was allowed to take off from Noumea to Lifou Island (Loyalty group, northeast of here), because Kanak passengers were to attend a funeral there.

The industrial action is led by USTKE (Union of Exploited Kanak Workers) in protest against the recruitment by domestic airline Air Calédonie of a non-indigenous office worker.

The union disapproves of the acceptance of an external applicant and the decision not to promote an existing employee.

Air Calédonie argues that those employees applying for promotion did not meet the qualification requirements.

"We're not getting anywhere. The movement could even get tougher as days go by --all this because of an irresponsible attitude from the management,"

USTKE transport branch head Jean Enoka told RFO.

"The management doesn't want to recognize the experience some employees have acquired. We're very sorry for the island people, but really there was no other way," he apologized.

In Maré (another island in the Loyalties), all Air Calédonie employees are reported to be following the strike, which started on Tuesday, and no contact could be established by the company's head office with its Ouvéa offices (Loyalties).

The only other planes that were allowed to take off were to the southern Isle of Pines.

Talks between management and the union had not resumed yet on Friday and the company was considering calling in a mediator from the Territory's labor department.

This bulletin is produced by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). Editor: Patrick Antoine DECLOITRE For more information, contact Nina RATULELE, PINA Administrator, at pina@is.com.fj

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