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SUVA, Fiji Islands (August 19, 2002 - Oceania Flash)---New Caledonia's Pierre Frogier last week became the first territorial President of New Caledonia to attend a Pacific Islands Forum summit.

Frogier, who lead a strong delegation from New Caledonia at the summit in Suva, also delivered a landmark speech on Saturday before the Forum leaders.

Frogier's speech was considered New Caledonia's first regional policy statement after it formed its first own territorial government three years ago. This took place under an organic law frameworked by the Nouméa Accord signed in 1998 between the French government and the two main political parties.

As a result, New Caledonia also gained access to the Forum as an observer.

Under the autonomy process, a prominent place is given to the indigenous rights of the Kanak people.

The head of the French Pacific territory (who is also a member of the French Lower House), told the 16 Pacific Islands Forum states’ leaders that his presence in Fiji and that of the delegation from New Caledonia was "evidence that New Caledonia fully feels a member of the big family of the Pacific Islands."

"We feel totally involved in the evolution of our region and in the challenges that we, together, have to face."

Speaking one month after a Forum ministerial fact-finding mission (headed by Fiji Foreign Minister Kaliopate Tavola) visited New Caledonia to monitor the implementation of the Nouméa Accord, Frogier said New Caledonia had "nothing to hide."

"Not only do we have nothing to hide, but we are proud of what we have achieved together in New Caledonia, with France's constant support, through the signing and implementation of the Nouméa Accord."

Referring to regional instability, especially in Melanesia, Frogier stressed that "New Caledonia was able to resume the path of civil peace and political stability."

This, he said, has led to a significant return in investors' confidence.

"We must remain humble and bear in mind that nothing is ever taken for granted. And we don't have the pretension to think we should be a model, but we could perhaps serve as an example," he added.

"There are big projects, especially in the nickel mining industry, that are under way and were made possible precisely because of this returned confidence. These will generate thousands of jobs. They will also probably make New Caledonia, sometime later in this century, the first nickel producer in the world."

Speaking more generally about the region, Frogier said his territory fully supported the Pacific whale sanctuary initiative.

He also offered, whenever relevant to the region, the support of Nouméa-based scientific research institutes, such as IRD (Research Institute for Development).

"To face all the challenges that we are confronted with, New Caledonia is lucky enough to be able to rely on this great and generous country that is France. We are an integral part of France, but we also have our own personality that fully takes into account our specificity as a Pacific Island and a multi-ethnic society."

Talking about the growing relations with neighboring Pacific Islands, Frogier mentioned his territory's desire to integrate better in the region and "find its place."

"We have relations with our closest neighbor, Vanuatu, with the Melanesian Spearhead Group countries (that include Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands), our largest neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands Forum countries."

Frogier also recalled that New Caledonia is home to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's (SPC) headquarters.

SPC groups 22 Pacific Island countries and territories.

In November, he announced, the Oceania Customs Organization Secretariat should also open its regional headquarters in Nouméa.

Speaking about potential trade and economic relations with the Pacific Islands, Frogier said New Caledonia was embracing a "pragmatic and open" approach.

Forum Ministerial Committee on New Caledonia

Later on Saturday, the Pacific Islands Forum leaders, in their final communiqué, endorsed the report of the Forum Ministerial Committee on New Caledonia following their July visit there.

They "welcomed the establishment of the institutions as provided for under the Nouméa Accord," but "reiterated their recognition of the rights of the people of New Caledonia to self-determination and reaffirmed their support for continuing dialogue with all communities in New Caledonia." Leaders also encouraged and urged all parties to continue to "maintain their commitment to the full implementation of the Nouméa Accord."

The Forum leaders also agreed to continue to "bring to the attention of the United Nations, the question of New Caledonia’s political future. It further agreed to support training of the Kanak people through the Kanak Training Fund and to making available training awards in their respective institutions for the training of Kanak students," the final text said, while "encouraging greater integration and participation of New Caledonia in the Forum region."

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