DISGRUNTLED UNIONS RESUME JUST-ENDED NEW CALEDONIA NICKEL STRIKE

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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (March 17, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---Disgruntled unions at the Société Le Nickel (SLN) company resumed a blockade of ore ships Thursday, after one union earlier had reach agreement to end the industrial action, RFO Radio reports.

The SOENC (Union of Workers and Employees) had late Tuesday signed an agreement with the SLN management, ending a seven-week strike in protest against a restructuring plan that purportedly would increase production and at the same time cut costs and possibly reduce the workforce. SLN had agreed to review its plan.

SOENC had staged many blockades, preventing nickel ore-carrying vessels from feeding SLN’s smelter in Doniambo (near Noumea). But just over a day after the agreement was signed, other unions (including USTKE - Union of Kanak and Exploited Workers - and another branch of SOENC), which claim to represent the "majority" within SLN, have resumed the blockades and prevented the "Santa Barbara" from leaving Doniambo.

The ship was to load ore at one of New Caledonia's main mining sites, in Kouaoua, and then depart for Japan.

It was finally allowed to leave on Friday.

The group of unions, in a news release on Friday, holds SOENC and its head, Sylvain Néa, responsible for the "waste" incurred by the recent seven-week strike action and a some two billion French Pacific Francs (around US$ 20 million) loss to the SLN.

New negotiations have gotten under way between the new inter-union group and SLN management.

 

35-YEAR OLD SPEAR FISHERMAN KILLED BY A SHARK IN NEW CALEDONIA

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (March 17, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---A 35-year old spear fisherman was killed on Wednesday by a shark near Poum (northern tip of the New Caledonia mainland), the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The shark, which is believed to belong to the tiger category, severed one of Gilbert Bui Van Minh's arms and bit off his thoracic cage as well as part of his abdomen.

Van Minh, a Noumea resident and employee of the domestic airline, Air Calédonie, was spear fishing with a friend, who didn't notice the attack and couldn't do anything to save the young man.

Witnesses said the victim's friend was underwater and when he came back to the surface, he saw Minh's mutilated body, floating in blood-colored waters.

The body was flown back to Noumea for burial.

Locals said this type of accident had not occurred for a very long time.

 

PRO-INDEPENDENCE FLNKS HOLDS CONGRESS

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (March 19, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---The pro-independence FLNKS (National Kanak Socialist Liberation Front) was scheduled to hold its annual congress during the weekend on Maré island (Loyalty group, north of Noumea) with an agenda dominated by structure reform and internal differences, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

"There is some cacophony within FLNKS because we don't have a clear orientation, and no working methods," Union Progessiste Mélanésienne (UPM, a member of the four-party FLNKS umbrella) President Victor Tutugoro said.

FLNKS was set up in 1984, amidst civil unrest in the French territory.

Since then, FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou signed the Matignon Accords in 1988 with the anti-independence RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia within the French Republic) leader Jacques Lafleur and the French government, paving the way for increased autonomy.

Tjibaou was assassinated one year later by a hardliner within FLNKS who saw the charismatic Kanak leader as a traitor to the spirit of struggle of the Kanak people.

The Matignon Accords were followed by the Noumea Accord, signed by the same parties in 1998 and providing for possible independence of New Caledonia within "15 to 20" years.

From civil unrest of the mid-eighties to a relatively stable political and institutional environment, the FLNKS "is not ageing well," supporters admitted.

"Can we go on with the FLNKS as we know it today, a struggle tool, or change it into an electoral tool?" FLNKS President Roch Wamytan asked Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes.

Wamytan was elected FLNKS President in 1995. He is also the head of the Union Calédonienne.

"We're like prisoners of a movement which is not really one, and where each party wants to keep its own identity," Wamytan said.

He also expressed disapproval of what he sees as disrespect of the "spirit of collegiality" within the newly formed local government (dominated by the RPCR).

"If there is no evolution by the next follow-up meeting of the Noumea Accord (in April-May), the obligation for us to leave this government will impose itself to us. . . . The direct consequence will be an institutional crisis that the (French) state and RPCR will have to take the blame for," Wamytan said.

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