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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (April 6, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---One of New Caledonia’s early Kanak pro-independence leaders, Yann Céléné Uregei, died on Thursday in his Koutio home (near Noumea) after a long illness, RFO-radio reports.

Uregei, born on Tiga Island (Loyalty Group), was the leader of the hard-line pro-independence movement, then known as the "Foulards Rouges" (red scarves), in the early seventies.

He traveled frequently to New York to speak on behalf of the Kanak people before the United Nations Decolonization Committee and to push for New Caledonia's "immediate" independence.

When the Matignon Accords were signed in 1988 between pro-independence FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, anti-independence RPCR (Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République) and then French prime minister Michel Rocard, Uregei voiced strong opposition.

Uregei retired from politics in 1989.



NOUMEA, New Caledonia (April 6, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---Seven elected members of the pro-independence FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front) in the New Caledonia's Congress have announced their intention to split from the party umbrella and create their own political group, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

Departure of the seven, who belong to the Union Calédonienne (UC, the main component of the four-party FLNKS), would bring down significantly the current 18 FLNKS seats (out of 54) in the French territory's congress. Ten of the 18 seats belong to the UC.

"We want more autonomy. Presently, there is not enough unity within the FLNKS and we are not strong enough to push our ideas on certain issues," UC Congress member Cézelin Tchoéaoua said.

Tchoéaoua intends to head the new group.



NOUMEA, New Caledonia (April 6, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---France's representative in New Caledonia, High Commissioner Thierry Lataste, sees the sensitive nickel issue in the French territory as a priority "to be dealt with one way or another" in order to fully implement the autonomy-spirited Noumea Accord, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

In an interview with Les Nouvelles, Lataste said the full implementation of the Accord, which was signed in May 1998, was currently hampered by negotiations pertaining to the future of New Caledonia's nickel industry.

According to the French official, a follow-up committee involving signatories to the Accord cannot take place until a solution is found to the nickel issue (and possible transfer of ownership of Société Le Nickel (SLN), a subsidiary of the French concern Eramet, to New Caledonia's provinces).

New Caledonia is the world's third nickel producer.

The Noumea Accord, which was signed by the pro-independence FLNKS, anti-independence leaders Roch Wamytan and Jacques Lafleur, and French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, is paving the way for New Caledonia's greater autonomy and possible independence within "15 to 20" years.

Negotiations between the parties were still going on, "but if we don't come to an agreement soon, this will have to be dealt with one way or another, because this is preventing us from processing the other issues," Lataste said. "But I want to remain optimistic".



NOUMEA, New Caledonia (April 6, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---Public works and private sector industry are increasingly worried about a strike at New Caledonia's main cement factory, "Les Ciments de Numbo," in the outskirts of Noumea, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The strike, which started Thursday last week, was called by two unions within the company, USTKE (Union of Kanak and Exploited Workers) and USOENC (Union of Workers and Employees of New Caledonia).

Strikers (most of the 38 employees) are demanding that two workers who are about to retire be replaced, contrary to the company's plans.

Les Ciments de Numbo (a 75% subsidiary of the Swiss group Holdebank, the world biggest cement producer) is producing most of the powder that is used to make cement in New Caledonia. Only a few truckloads of cement already produced were allowed to leave the factory at Numbo (near Noumea). Building companies, private and public alike, lack cement and say they could be forced to lay off workers soon.

"I'm completely perplexed and overwhelmed. I don't understand this strike. This company does not have a conflict situation," General manager Henri Tiedrez said.

The employers' federation has stepped in to mediate the conflict and initiate a dialogue between the union workers and management.

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