NEW CALEDONIA'S FIRST OMBUDSMAN WILL BE AN OMBUDSWOMAN

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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (October 1, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---France's Mediator of the Republic, a position known in the Pacific as Ombudsman, is currently in New Caledonia on a six-day trip to set up the first office of the New Caledonian Ombudsman, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

A former Overseas Minister in the French government in the early 1970s, Bernard Stasi is the current Mediator in France.

The position, deemed to be independent from the French government, focuses on establishing an intermediary between the people and the administration in any conflict situation.

Around 50,000 such cases are processed in France each year.

Stasi spent the weekend in neighboring Vanuatu, where an office of the Ombudsman was set up in 1994 and where he was to meet his counterpart.

He is due back in New Caledonia this week to officially establish what is to become the office of his delegate in New Caledonia.

But New Caledonia's first Ombudsman will be an Ombudswoman. She is Marie-France Dezarnaulds, a former director of the Nouméa-based CREIPAC (South Pacific International Exchange Center, specializing in French language and culture training).

Since Stasi arrived in New Caledonia last week, he already has met with top officials, including anti-independence RPCR party leader Jacques Lafleur, territorial President Jean Lèques and new Customary (Traditional Council of Chiefs) Senate Chairman Jean Wanabo.

He also is scheduled to meet with Loyalty Islands Province Chairman Robert Xowie.

 

FIRE FIGHTERS STILL STRUGGLE IN NORTHERN NEW CALEDONIA

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (October 1, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---Fire fighters in Northern New Caledonia are still struggling to extinguish massive bush fires, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

Over the past five days, the fires have been spreading through the north of the French territory's main island, mainly due to strong winds and a drought currently affecting the region.

Fire fighters said the fires are now spreading to the Southern part of New Caledonia and have reached the southeastern coast in Bourail, where some houses are seriously threatened by the blaze.

"We couldn't commit our men too near to the front line. There were only five of us available and there was therefore no cover. The risk of being trapped was too high," Bourail’s fire chief said.

Les Nouvelles comments that the local fire brigade chief was very diplomatic in his wording. The "cover" he was alluding to was in fact "the fire fighting helicopter, which has been grounded since the beginning of the dry season because of insufficient budget.

Helicopters are crucial in the fight against bush fires. They can offer protection to the ground fire fighters, allow them to get closer to the front and provide for a retreat if they find themselves trapped.

Over the entire territory, some fires were due to negligence, others could be of criminal origin, fire fighters said.

Meanwhile, police and gendarmes have appealed to the general public to provide any information regarding any case of arson.

Some 3,000 hectares (7,500 acres) of brush have been burned in the past few days, the equivalent of the entire surface are destroyed by fire during the whole of last year.

Authorities fear the worse is yet to come. Statistics say October is a high-risk month for brush fires in the French territory.

Meteorology forecasts predict a dry October this year.

Two years ago, 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) were destroyed by fire.

 

FIVE NEW ZEALAND TEACHERS BRUSH UP THEIR FRENCH IN NOUMÉA

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (October 1, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---Five New Zealand primary school teachers began a French language refresher course this week as part of ongoing exchanges, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The five, who are sponsored by the French embassy in New Zealand, are attending the South Pacific International Exchange Center (CREIPAC) in Nouméa.

Back in New Zealand, they teach French to schoolchildren aged 8-12 years.

While their course's main purpose is to brush up on the French language, they also are in New Caledonia to become more familiar with French culture in general and the territory’s environment in particular.

During their first week, they have focused on the language aspects.

Their second week will be devoted to professional exchanges with their New Caledonian counterparts, who teach English in the French territory's primary schools.

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