RPCR INCREASES MAJORITY WITHIN NEW CALEDONIA GOVERNMENT

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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (August 1, 2002 - Oceania Flash)---Anti-independence RPCR party member Corinne Foluhea took charge of the customary (traditional) affairs portfolio this week, replacing dismissed Raphaël Mapou, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

Mapou, an outspoken opponent of recent decisions related to nickel mining in the territory's Southern province, was dismissed from the local government of New Caledonia earlier this week.

Mapou is a member of the FCCI (Federation of Coordination Committees of Pro-Independence Parties, a breakaway faction from the major pro-independence umbrella FLNKS), which is a junior partner in the local government.

His replacement is from RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia within the French Republic), the senior partner in the territorial government, which now holds eight portfolios out of 11.

Thirty-three-year-old Corinne Foluhea's appointment came after another RPCR member, France Debien, resigned minutes after he was appointed to the ministerial post to replace Mapou.

Debien later explained that he preferred to keep his position as a member of the Northern Province Assembly and member of the Congress (territorial parliament) agriculture commission.

Les Nouvelles, however, predicts that Foluhea, a former teacher, will not hold the traditional affairs portfolio for very long "because of the cultural context and the prominent role of men in custom" and that another reshuffle is bound to take place "within two weeks."

Mapou, who until last week was in charge of custom affairs, has been an outspoken critic of recent decisions made by the local government, including on nickel mining rights granted to foreign companies, especially in the Southern Province site of Goro (near the village of Prony) to Canadian giant Inco.

He recently said those mining and prospecting rights had been "given away" to the Canadian company, although RPCR was a strong advocate for the decision, saying it was essential for New Caledonia to seize this opportunity.

RPCR and FCCI formed the first local government of New Caledonia three years ago.

FCCI said its annual general meeting, which is to take place during the weekend, would provide an opportunity to reflect on what some term as an "internal crisis" and to consider whether the coalition with RPCR should go on.

Speaking after his expulsion from the local government, Mapou said this gave rise to questions as to the "real will of RPCR to take FCCI's views and aspirations" into account.

He told Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes that, in his view, some members of his own party have "aligned themselves to the diktat of RPCR."

Two other FFCI members of the territorial Parliament, the Congress, Paul Kasarhérou and Jean-Marc Pidjot, have since also threatened to resign from the local assembly.

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