By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Sept. 16) - Preparations are underway in New Caledonia to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the archipelago as a French territory, with plans to erect a 10-metre Kanak traditional pole at the center of the capital Nouméa's landmark Coconut Square.

A committee has been formed to organize this year's celebrations to mark the arrival of French Admiral Febvrier-Despointes in the small Bay of Balade (Northernmost tip of the main island), where, for the first time, he raised the French flag on the islands group.

This was on September 15, 1853.

Since then, the event has been regarded as a celebration by the French settlers' community, the Caldoche, who call it the "Taking of Possession", while for pro-independence indigenous Kanak groups, it is described as a "day of mourning".

In an interview with Radio Australia's Pacific Beat, Committee spokesman Jacques Boengkih said he hoped this 150th anniversary should be an opportunity to take a new approach on New Caledonia's polarizing issues and the notion of a "common destiny" enshrined in the five-year-old Nouméa accord.

The accord was signed in 1998 between the French government, pro-independence FLNKS party and anti-independence RPCR.

The committee is asking all communities, including non-Kanak ones, municipalities and traditional chiefs of all areas throughout New Caledonia to come together and join in this year's celebrations with a positive and constructive approach.

"The Nouméa accord is there, that's a fact, but at the political level, people are still fighting each other

Boengkih said in substance the accord, including in its preamble, contained references to the presence of the Kanak people, which was progress, but that it was primarily up to the people to make it become real in terms of shared future and coexistence.

"Kanaks, traditional leaders, other communities leaders, are all tired of this political situation which is not helping people talk to each other. So at the customary level, community leaders and our committee have decided that we should change the way we communicate... Let's stop fighting on the political arena, let's solve things not the political way, but the human being way".

September 17, 2003

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