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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (March 21, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC) - New Caledonia's local government President Jean Lèques resigned from office Tuesday, explaining that from now on he wanted to devote all of his time to his position of Nouméa mayor.

"During 22 months, I have realized the importance of those two positions and what it necessitated in terms of work. And I think it is preferable, both for New Caledonia and Nouméa town, that the positions of President of the government on one part, and Nouméa mayor on the other part, not be held by the same person," Lèques told a press conference.

Lèques became New Caledonia's first President after the French territory set up its own territorial government for the first time in 1999.

The new local government was a direct result of the signing of the Nouméa Accord in May 1998 between pro-independence FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front) President Roch Wamyan, anti-independence RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia within the French Republic) President Jacques Lafleur and French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

The accord set out new guidelines for the French territory's future status, including greater autonomy from metropolitan France and a possible referendum on independence within "15 to 20 years" from 1998.

On Sunday, March 11, Lèques was re-elected as Nouméa mayor. He then expressed the view that he wished to spend all his time on Nouméa town, which he thought he had neglected since he had been New Caledonia's President.

During his two years as President, Lèques experienced "teething" problems on the day-to-day operation of the new government.

"Collegiality", as defined in the Nouméa Accord, implies that the government decision-making process had to involve a consultation process among all participating parties. But the concept has so far proved difficult to implement, especially since the eleven-member New Caledonian Cabinet is made up of seven members from RPCR and a coalition ally, FCCI (Federation of Pro-Independence Coordination Committees) and only four from FLNKS.

As he announced his resignation on Tuesday, Lèques also recalled that when he accepted the presidential post, he had already pointed out it would be "for a limited time only."

"Now I want to give the priority to Nouméa town."

Lèque's resignation automatically entails the fall of the whole government, according to the law resulting from the Nouméa Accord.

The 54-member Congress is to meet on April 3 in extraordinary session with one item on the agenda: the election of a new President.

Pierre Frogier, from RPCR and a close ally of Lafleur, is strongly expected to be the next head of the New Caledonia government.

Analysts also predict an appeasing improvement on the concept of collegiality: the new Vice President could be FLNKS President Roch Wamytan.

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