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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (April 20, 2000 - OFO)---New Caledonia’s vice-president, FCCI party leader Léopold Jorédié, defined himself as a "nationalist, but realistic," Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reported.

"If the majority of New Caledonians voted in favor of the Nouméa accord, this means they see New Caledonia as their nation," Jorédié said in an interview with Les Nouvelles.

The Nouméa accord, which was signed in May 1998, paves the way for a greater autonomy for New Caledonia, a gradual transfer of power from the French State to local authorities and a possible independence in "15 to 20" years.

But Jorédié said this independence could come even later than that, if ever.

"We have to stop giving New Caledonians the impression that independence will come in 2015," he said. "I'm not selling dreams. To remain present in the Pacific, France must go on exercising a shared sovereignty with us in New Caledonia, rather than giving us independence and then come back later through multinational companies, like what is happening these days in Africa."

He said French input into New Caledonia as the main component to supporting the financial costs.

"To talk about independence these days, is an exercise of demagogy," he said. "Some are still using it to preserve their electorate. But they know very well that exercising sovereignty has a price tag. And this price, for the time being, is largely paid by France."

"The problem is that every agreement regarding New Caledonia has always been signed under pressure. Even for the Nouméa, the French State is more present than ever. If both partners had taken more time to draft it, things would work better. The French State would have accompanied the process instead of saying what is wrong and what should be done," he said.

Jorédié, however, is optimistic about New Caledonia's increased integration the Pacific region.

"New Caledonia is taking part more and more in international meetings. The South Pacific Forum is a body that groups the Pacific countries. We now have an observer status and the participation of the New Caledonian government is important, because we have to start asserting ourselves as a full country," he said.

A New Caledonian delegation is expected to take part in the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting in Japan next week, which will include South Pacific Forum member countries.

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