NEW CALEDONIA PARTIES MEET IN PARIS TO MONITOR AUTONOMY PROCESS

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PARIS, France (January 22, 2002 - Oceania Flash)---New Caledonia's main pro and anti-independence parties are meeting this week in Paris as part of a follow-up process to the four-year-old Nouméa autonomy accord, local media reported on Tuesday.

The accord was signed in May 1998 by pro-independence FLNKS leader Roch Wamytan, anti-independence RPCR's Jacques Lafleur and then French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

While recognizing the prominence of Kanak culture in New Caledonia’s history, it also provides for an autonomy process, which includes a gradual transfer of powers from metropolitan France to the Pacific territory, with a possible independence referendum within "fifteen to twenty" years from the signing date.

The follow-up committee is expected monitor the implementation of the Nouméa Accord and the "organic law" that was passed to enforce it.

The accord also promotes the spirit of "collegiality" that is supposed to prevail in the governance of New Caledonia and include the main components of the political spectrum.

High on the agenda are such matters as New Caledonia's integration in its "natural regional environment," the development of its own identity symbols and emblems, Kanak culture, media matters, the territory's future development tools and ways to pursue efforts to "re-equilibrate" the Northern (usually regarded as poorer) and Southern (usually seen as wealthy) provinces.

The follow-up committee is also to meet French State Secretary for Overseas Territories Christian Paul and other top French authorities, such as French Media Council Chairman Dominique Baudis.

The RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia within the French Republic) delegation is headed by Territorial President Pierre Frogier.

RPCR President Jacques Lafleur said earlier this month he would not attend the meeting for "personal reasons."

FLNKS, an umbrella of pro-independence parties, is headed by UC President Pascal Naouna.

Last month, as a result of a power struggle between its two main components, UC (Union Calédonienne) and PALIKA (Kanak Liberation Party), FLNKS failed to elect a new President and is now headed by a committee.

Former UC President (who was also FLNKS President), Roch Wamytan, was ousted from his own party earlier last year and replaced by Pascal Naouna.

Only weeks ahead of France's general and presidential elections this year, the delegation's busy one-week schedule also includes a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, Socialist French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and his Minister of Education Jack Lang (a cultural agreement between France and New Caledonia on the promotion of Kanak culture is currently being drafted).

A trip to Brussels, Belgium is also planned, where New Caledonia's representatives are to meet European Union officials.

New Caledonia is a beneficiary to the EU's European Development Fund (EDF).

Another item on the agenda could also be the recent ethnic tension that occurred near Nouméa in December and earlier this month between ethnic Kanaks and Wallisians (who originate from the Wallis and Futuna Islands near Fiji and now make up about ten percent of New Caledonia’s 200,000 residents).

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