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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (August 24, 2000 - Islands Business Magazine/PINA Nius Online)---Geographically New Caledonia is one of Fiji's closest neighbors. But as far as most New Caledonians are concerned, the recent civilian coup in Fiji could have been on another planet. This indifference illustrates how New Caledonia is still more focused on events in France and the European Union than in its own neighborhood. But as it slowly integrates into the region, events in neighboring countries will have increasing impact.

Although people with direct links heard the news of the coup on Friday May 19, the day it was mounted, a large part of the population living in the French Pacific territory were still unaware of it the following Monday. Even the local media did not take a real interest until several days into the drama. In the political arena people seemed more preoccupied with domestic affairs and the provincial elections for the Loyalty Islands in June.

Politicians kept relatively quiet on the affair as Fijian leaders, who had criticized the unrest in New Caledonia in the 1980s, found themselves in a similar situation.

Jacques Lafleur, president of anti-independence party, Rassemblement, (previously the RPCR-Rally for Caledonia within the Republic), remembers the criticism well: "I believe people must never lecture to one another as no two situations are exactly the same."

At the same time he believes the progress accomplished by New Caledonia since the Matignon and Noumea accords were signed could be used as an example with regards to what the countries have in common. "Both are multi-ethnic, multi-cultural countries." The population in New Caledonia also needs to increase its understanding of the ethnic situation in Fiji, he says.

He condemns the coup attempt and hopes democracy returns soon. He believes the two countries' relations on economic and cultural levels will remain unchanged.

Relations: As far as diplomatic relations are concerned, New Caledonia will take the same position taken by France. Thierry Lataste, New Caledonia's French High Commissioner, says the French government has always had very open relations with Fiji, and is not planning boycotts. However, for the time being it has suspended defense relations. The French armed forces in New Caledonia had previously participated in joint military exercises with Fiji. Lataste says France is also in close contact with Australia and New Zealand regarding the affair. Economically New Caledonia has felt no significant effects, as there are relatively few trade links between the two countries. New Caledonia's 1999 figures show an exports/imports ratio of 3.7%. Its exports rate is extremely low and, because of their irregular nature, it is difficult to determine whether the coup has affected them. Imports from Fiji have remained stable at 13.3 million CFP ($US 100 000) for June.

Some, however, have felt adverse effects. The manager of a local dairy factory looking at establishing close trade relations with a Fiji company, says the instability created by the coup has meant putting the plans on standby. Although a furniture manufacturer which imports wood from Fiji did not experience any significant problems, at the beginning of the coup, delivery was delayed when a group of laborers deserted a supplier.

The uprisings in both Fiji and the Solomon Islands have also disrupted regional programs and meant cancellation of workshops run by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. But the organization, whose headquarters are in Noumea, is making no official comment.

At Air Calédonie International (Air Calin), New Caledonia's official carrier, which operates one flight a week to Nadi, a staff member said passenger numbers dropped in the early days of the coup, but returned to normal soon afterwards.

In the hospitality industry, one hotel estimated a five percent increase in its guest rate as a direct result of the tension in Fiji. The extra tourists were mainly Australians and Japanese.

Another has had an increase in the number of Japanese couples getting married there. But hoteliers say the lack of publicity has limited the spin-offs predicted for the tourism industry. Insufficient public funding for GIE Nouvelle-Calédonie Tourisme, the country's tourism promotional association, means there have been no publicity campaigns since its funds were frozen earlier this year. One hotel manager believes once things are back to normal in Fiji, New Caledonia will be in danger of losing the little ground it has gained. He believes it could eventually end up with even less tourists than before the coup.

The events in Fiji have left the small multi-ethnic Fijian community in New Caledonia in a state of shock. Joe and Disau Kava are among its members. Joe describes the community as "feeling lost." The reaction from New Caledonians has been mainly of curiosity, he says. "Since it was a civilian coup, they wanted to find out the personal stance of indigenous Fijians."

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