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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (April 2, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---Prominent Kanak leader Gérard Ouckewen's body was laid to rest Saturday on his home island of Ouvéa (Loyalty Islands group, northeast of New Caledonia's main island), the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

Pro-independence FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front) President Roch Wamytan was among hundreds of others attending the memorial ceremony at Ouvéa's small Saint Joseph Cemetery.

Ouckewen was Ouvéa's Union Calédonienne (UC, pro-independence, a member of the FLNKS umbrella) Committee president.

Les Nouvelles noted that although tension was high since Ouckewen's death on March 24, after a fight with anti-independence local Congress Chairman Simon Loueckhote at Nouméa's domestic airport of Magenta over political issues, the funeral was marked by "no notable incident."

Loueckhote, who had booked a flight from Nouméa to Ouvéa to attend the funeral, was reported not to have turned up at the airport and therefore did not participate.

Four days after Ouckewen's death, a coroner’s report dismissed any "connection" between his death in Nouméa and the earlier fistfight with Louekhote. The coroner concluded that there was a "cardiac pace malfunction."

Ouckenwen and Loueckhote, during the fight, had to be separated by police.

Ouckewen later collapsed near his car on Nouméa's Anse Vata, along the seafront.

Wamytan later demanded that "every light be shed on this matter."

He also labeled Loueckhote's behavior as "delinquent."

Anti-independence RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia within the French Republic) chairman Jacques Lafleur reacted by labeling the matter "political maneuvering."

"Once again, UC is staging a provocative action that is irresponsible and dangerous."

He pledged his "total support" to Loueckhote.

Ouckewen's family pleaded for calm and acceptance of the coroner’s autopsy results.

"The two men were politically opposed, but we don't want this matter to become a political matter," a family member told local media.

In the days following Ouckewen's death, police stepped up security measures in Ouvéa.

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