NEWS FROM NEW CALEDONIA

admin's picture

August 26, 1999

PINA Nius Online

HIGH TENSION EASES IN UNION-BLOCKADED NOUMEA

NOUMEA---Roadblocks erected on Wednesday in Noumea's industrial area of Ducos were lifted by the USOENC trade union on Thursday.

The union now is targeting the Southern Province headquarters of anti-independence leader Jacques Lefleur, RFO-radio reports.

The conflict started three months ago with USOENC demanding that some 36 fired employees of Cellocal, Sotrapa and Sofraplast (all specializing in the production of plastic and paper wrapping and toilet products) be reinstated.

In the early hours of Wednesday, the Union erected roadblocks in Ducos’ industrial area (in the outskirts of Noumea), barring residents from going to work.

They also prevented passengers from boarding an Air France flight to Paris via Tokyo. The plane had to leave Noumea's Tonouta International Airport empty.

Another flight, operated by Air Calédonie International and bound for Auckland, also had to be canceled.

In addition, Noumea's wharf was blockaded on Wednesday.

Police reinforcements and special riot squads were sent to act as buffers between union members and the general public.

Finally, on Thursday, USOENC decided to lift the three roadblocks (one at each point of entry to Ducos) which, it said, were penalizing the population.

They then turned to Lafleur's Southern Province headquarters and blocked its gates with chains.

A few weeks ago, USOENC place chains on the three Cellocal, Sofraplast and Sotrapa gates.

On June 11, they erected the first series of roadblocks, isolating Noumea for an entire day and preventing thousands of people from going to work.

Employers’ unions in New Caledonia had then said they wouldn't engage in talks until, "normal conditions for talks were satisfied."

Negotiations behind the scenes are reported to still be taking place between the USOENC and the French High Commissioner in New Caledonia, and probably with Lafleur himself, sources here said.

USOENC Secretary-General Didier Guenant on Thursday said he wanted an honorable exit for every party involved in the action, union and companies alike.

"We have been forced into this action by Cellocal's management’s intransigence and will to humiliate us with the help of political connections. This is not acceptable in a country like New Caledonia," Guenant said. "I still believe it is them (employers) who are using violence."

The Cellocal strike started on May 25.

Last month, a mediating committee was appointed by newly arrived French High Commissioner Thierry Lataste, but it failed to conciliate the confronting parties.

Lataste, on Wednesday, held talks again with employers who threatened to take law into their own hands if nothing was done by authorities to lift the roadblocks.

"It's very clear, if the State doesn't take its responsibilities, we'll take them. There is such a thing as freedom of movement," Small and Medium Companies Employers Federation Spokesman Alain Descombels said.

"You're talking about 10,000 people here who can’t go to work, and they're all held hostage by the Union. These methods are unbearable."

During the tension, two journalists, one from Radio Rythme Bleu (RRB, close to Lafleur's RPCR) and one from RFO were manhandled.

RFO cameraman Philippe Grenier was injured by a stone thrown at his head.

Other members of the public who had tried to bypass the roadblocks by using an alternate route were also manhandled by the Unionists.

RPC leader Jacques Lafleur accused the Union of using the current visit of two missions, one from the Forum Secretariat and another from the United Nations, to attract attention.

"This is not a coincidence, these roadblocks, when these missions from the UN and the Forum are here. I really hope New Caledonia will not project a bad image about its political reconciliation process," Lafleur said.

"My children are in Cellocal. If I must, I'll sleep in the company," he told journalists.

The three companies are headed by anti-independence RPCR (rally for New Caledonia within the French Republic) Lafleur's son Pascal and daughter Isabelle.

"Union leaders are replacing talks by muscle. I've never accepted this and never will," he went on, stressing the action was dangerous for New Caledonia's economy. "No one can benefit from making trouble in New Caledonia."

New Caledonia President Jean Leques said, "This situation is not tolerable, especially at a time when New Caledonia has excellent contact with the UN and Forum delegations.

"I'm beginning to wonder whether behind all this, there couldn't be political motivations," he said.

SOUTH PACIFIC FORUM AND UN MISSIONS IN NORTHERN NEW CALEDONIA

NOUMEA---Two delegations, from the South Pacific Forum and the United Nations, were in New Caledonia's Northern Province on Thursday, RFO-radio reports.

The two missions, which are visiting New Caledonia as part of an ongoing monitoring process of the implementation of the Noumea Accords signed last year, met Northern Province President and former Pro-Independence FLNKS party leader Paul Neaoutyne.

Neaoutyne said implementation of the Accords and New Caledonia’s progress toward greater autonomy is being made on the basis of "consensus and will."

"I believe in this, and I think we'll overcome our differences. That's what I told them, but at the same time I think it won't be easy. It won't be possible to say we have succeeded until we get there. We'll only get what we will have strive for," Neaoutyne said.

The Noumea Accords have paved the way for larger autonomy for the French territory and possible independence within a 15 to 20 year period.

FRENCH-SPEAKING PACIFIC BOOK RELEASED IN ENGLISH

NOUMEA---The Australian Bombana publishing company has released the English version of a book about the French-speaking Pacific, its population, environment and development issues, Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The book is a translation of "Geopacifique - des espaces Français" (Geopacific -French Spaces), a collection of scientific works from the New Caledonian Geopacifique Association released in 1994.

The goal of the book, the authors say, is to contribute to the development of a better knowledge and understanding of the French-speaking Pacific, including the French overseas territories (TOM) of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna.

The book's French version sold very well with students, teachers and scholars.

The new English language version, the publisher says, takes another step by making information about the French Pacific territories more available to the English-speaking public, especially in Australia and the United States.

The book includes environmental, social, cultural and economic analyses of the French Pacific territories and a supplementary section devoted to the only partly-French speaking independent Pacific Island state, Vanuatu.

The book was partly written by Christian Jost, a geographer at the University of Noumea.

This bulletin was 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

Rate this article: 
Average: 3 (2 votes)

Add new comment