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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (October 11, 2000 – Oceania Flash/SPC)---New Caledonia's main nickel company, Société Le Nickel (SLN), held an "historic" meeting Tuesday in which newly-appointed local representatives took part for the first time, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The four new members were appointed recently as part of a localization of SLN and a transfer of 30 percent of its shares to a New Caledonian company, Société Territoriale Calédonienne de Participation Industrielle (STCPI).

Apart from SLN, eight percent of the shares of its mother company, Paris-based nickel giant Eramet, were also part of the transfer to STCPI.

The whole transfer operation was funded by France as part of the implementation of the Nouméa Accord, which subsidized STCPI to pay out the shares for a total of 1 billion French Francs (around US$ 200 million).

The Nouméa Accord, which was signed in May 1998 between pro and anti-independence parties (FLNKS and RPCR) and French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, is aimed at paving the way for a gradual transfer of powers from France to the French territory. It also provides for possible independence for New Caledonia between "15 to 20" years from that date.

At this first meeting, chaired by SLN President Patrick André, Eramet Chairman Yves Rambaud was also present. The four local board members and STCPI administrators were observers.

"This is a historic meeting," Rambaud said.

Two of the four are representing Promosud (the Southern Province legal component of STCPI). Another two are sitting for Nordil (a joint venture between the Northern and Loyalty Islands provinces).

They will formally become board members and will each hold a "deliberative" vote at SLN's shareholders annual meeting, which is scheduled to take place on October 27 as part of the annual general meeting of the company.

Observers predict one of their first planned motions will be to require that SLN's head office be relocated from Paris to Nouméa.

New Caledonia is currently the world's third largest nickel producer with an expected production of some 62,000 tons by the end of this year.

Rambaud also mentioned at the meeting the possibility of a joint venture between SLN and Canadian giant Inco (the world's largest nickel producer) that could lead to the setting up of a factory in the southern part of New Caledonia.

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