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By Al Hulsen

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (September 15, 1999 – PIDP/CPIS)---New Caledonia will be admitted as a South Pacific Forum observer at the regional group’s annual summit meeting in Palau next month.

France’s Permanent Secretary for the Pacific, Ambassador Pierre Garrigue-Guyonnaud, announced the move this week during an address at Hawai‘i’s East-West Center.

He said the change results from a "new era" in France’s relations with its Pacific territories, where sovereignty is shared and indigenous identities and desires are recognized.

Next year, Ambassador Garrigue-Guyannoud expects that French Polynesia also will become a Forum observer.

Last year’s Nouméa Agreement with New Caledonia and political negotiations now under way between France and French Polynesia, he said, are leading to increasing local autonomy for the two Pacific jurisdictions. Their future political status, he pointed out, will be as "overseas countries," rather than "overseas territories."

With the end of France’s nuclear testing in the Pacific and the fact that "the Cold War in warm waters is a thing of the past," it is "now time for cooperation and freedom," he said.

The ambassador envisions the two major French territories in the Pacific having future political ties with France similar to that of the Cook Islands’ associated state status with New Zealand.

Regarding the territories’ economies, he believes New Caledonia, rich in nickel and a growing tourist destination, can be basically self-sufficient, becoming a "French Hawai‘i." French Polynesia, however, he said, will probably have to depend on France for about half its needed revenue for the foreseeable future, with the remainder generated through fishing, pearl farming and tourism.

Two other French Pacific areas, Wallis and Futuna and Clipperton Island, remain more dependent.

In Wallis and Futuna, located between Fiji and Tuvalu, there will be permanent dialogue and controlled evolution toward further emancipation, he said.

As for unpopulated Clipperton Island, he said the former guano mine surrounded by rich fishing grounds remains disputed territory with Mexico. Official visits from Papeete are made about every six months and the possibility of establishing a research and observer station on the island, also known as Ile de la Passion, is under consideration.

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