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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Dec. 9) — Authorities in New Caledonia have admitted that a census held in September this year has been boycotted by at least ten percent of the French Pacific territory’s population.

What is now regarded as incomplete and distorted results has been sent two weeks ago to French National Institute of Statistics INSEE in Paris.

INSEE will now attempt to reconstruct figures according to existing statistics, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The INSEE is now expected to come up with an announcement by December 31.

According to the same sources, the census was not only boycotted by a fringe of pro-independence citizens, but also by residing metropolitan French persons, who told surveyors they did not want to partake in the body count because they felt they were not regarded as citizens and were just to pay tax.

In the past few weeks, a controversy has also arisen in New Caledonia, mainly from metropolitan French residents, who have formed into an association, saying in essence that they felt they were increasingly being treated as second-class citizens due to what they perceived as the perverse effects of affirmative action clauses contained in New Caledonia’s Nouméa Accord, the French Pacific territory’s blueprint for the next fifteen years.

Current estimates would put New Caledonia’s population to some 230,000, including 90,000 living in the Greater Nouméa area.

In September, early indicators already suggested that three per cent of the population has chosen not to respond.

The census started officially on August 31, one year later than initially planned.

It was scheduled to last until September 28, but was extended for a further week in a last ditch bid to get more participation.

But this census has been marred with controversy on a specific issue: that of whether the questionnaire should contain an item specifically referring to individuals‚ ethnic group.

French President Jacques Chirac, while in New Caledonia in July last year, had strongly opposed the ethnic question, saying France did not regard its citizens according to their ethnicity, but simply as French citizens.

Since then, whereas the census should have taken place in July 2003, it has been cautiously delayed, even though the last accurate figures date from 1996.

It was finally decided the census would be conducted, but that the questionnaire would not contain the sensitive ethnic question.

For the past few weeks, both pro and anti-independence parties from across the political spectrum have opposed the census, even calling for a boycott.

"If these tendencies are confirmed, this means some six to seven thousand persons will not be taken into account. And there is a risk that the reliability of the census could be affected," French National Institute of Statistics INSEE chef de mission Gabriel Gamblin said.

Meanwhile, in September, New Caledonia’s Congress (Parliament) had moved to endorse the principle of an "ethnic" survey.

This separate survey’s purpose was to make up for the absence of the controversial ethnic question in the official census and obtain exact measures on the population of the multi-ethnic society.

The survey would be conducted separately, at an additional cost of some 1.5 million US dollars.

It has now been postponed to mid-April 2005.

"It seems crucial to us that communities represented on the Territory are precisely determined in order to measure the progress of re-balancing, which is a the heart of the Nouméa Accord," New Caledonia’s President Marie-Noëlle Thémereau said.

But Union Calédonienne, which is regarded as the hard-line component of the pro-independence National Kanak Socialist Liberation Front, chose not to take part in the Congress vote, saying this was a "waste of public funds."

December 10, 2004

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