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SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, May 5) - New Caledonia today
celebrates the fifth anniversary of the signing for the landmark autonomy Nouméa

The accord as signed on May 5, 1998, between the main political
parties of the French territory, the pro-independence Kanak Socialist National
Liberation Front (FLNKS) and the opposing Rally for New Caledonia Within the
French Republic (RPCR).

FLNKS's Roch Wamytan and RPCR's Jacques Lafleur were two
signatories. The third was former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, on behalf
of the French government.

For the first, the accord officially recognized at the highest
level indigenous Kanak people's cultural identity and rights.

On that day, Jospin also officially opened the Tjibaou Cultural

The accord also acknowledged the "colonial fact" that had marked
New Caledonia for over a century, since France, on September 24 1853, took
possession of the land named New Caledonia by James Cook a few years earlier

"But this territory was not empty", the accord said in its
preamble. "Grande Terre (the main island) and the outlying islands were
inhabited by men and women now known as Kanaks. They had developed their own
civilization, with its traditions and languages, in which custom, which governed
political and social life, prevailed. Their cultural and spiritual life was
expressed through various forms of creativity.

The Kanak identity was based on a particular relationship with
land. Each individual and each clan defined itself in terms of a specific link
to a valley, a hill, the sea or a river estuary and carried in its memory the
acceptance of other families on its land. The names attached by tradition to
each element of the landscape and the taboos affecting some of these, as well as
the customary ways, gave structure to space and exchanges.."

The accord also recognized that "the colonization of New
Caledonia occurred as a part of a broad historical movement which saw the
European countries impose their domination on the rest of the world. In the 19th
and 20th centuries, many men and women came, either with the conviction that
they were bringing progress, or inspired by their religious faith, or sent
against their will or seeking a second chance in New Caledonia. They settled and
started families there. They brought with them their ideals, knowledge, hopes,
ambitions, illusions and contradictions.

"The time has come to recognize the dark hours of the colonial
era, even if it was not altogether without some light,",the accord said, further
acknowledging that "the shock of colonisation" had been "a lasting trauma for
the original population" and that from now on, inhabitants of New Caledonia were
to embrace a "common destiny".

The accord said "France is ready to accompany New Caledonia on
this path."

The accord provides avenues for a possible independence of New
Caledonia within "15 to 20 years" from the date of signing, effectively between
2013 and 2018.

As part of the autonomy process, a New Caledonian citizenship
and "signs of identity" (such as a specific flag and a national anthem) are also
proposed, but have not been implemented so far.

Since 1999, New Caledonia has its own territorial government.

A gradual transfer of powers from metropolitan France to local
authorities has started to proceed, including in primary education.

Other matters such as local employment, international relations,
air links, law and order, mining and media matters are also mentioned in the
accord for a possible transfer to local authorities.

May 6, 2003

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