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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Jan. 3) - Authorities in New Caledonia have officially launched a quest, by way of a public contest, in order to identify what is locally referred to as "identity symbols", namely a national anthem, a motto and a design for its future banknotes.

Those symbols are part of an autonomy path set out in the 1998 autonomy Nouméa Accord.

The Accord was signed by both pro-French and pro-independence parties, as well as the French government.

For the first time, the preamble of the Accord also recognised the identity of New Caledonia's Kanak, indigenous people.

The public contest was launched two weeks ago and entries and submissions are scheduled to close at the end of February.

The competition is open to all residents of New Caledonia

It allows for the usage of both French and Kanak indigenous languages.

The national anthem, a musical score yet to be identified, could last between two and five minutes.

After that date, a so-called "identity signs steering committee" (officially formed in April 2007) will select hat they will regard as the successful entries and make recommendations to the local government.

The Nouméa Accord contains such notions as "common destiny", "power sharing" between the French Pacific territory's main ethnic groups (the descendents of French settlers, known as the "Caldoche" and the indigenous Kanaks).

But the public competition does not concern as yet the other two future identity signs of New Caledonia, generally regarded as the most sensitive ones: the name of a future independent New Caledonia and its flag.

Instead, New Caledonia's government, has decided leave the difficult task of debating the touchy issue to the "identity signs steering committee".

For New Caledonia's future flag, one of the most appealing, yet controversial options, was to adopt the colourful flag from the pro-independence FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front)

Regarded as the most elaborate flag to date, the blue, red, green and yellow flag, bearing the traditional Kanak roofing arrow, is also regarded by many, on the pro-French side, as too independence-loaded.

An envisaged compromise, inspired from the presence of the United Kingdom's Union Jack on many independent Pacific island States, could be to blend the Kanak symbols with a French flag-inspired blue, white and red colour code, possibly as a watermark.

Another option, reported in the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes, would make the exercise even more tricky: it would be to integrate another dimension, that of the European Union (since New Caledonia's because of its dependence from France, is also classified in the European Union's OCTs -Overseas Countries and Territories-) in New Caledonia's future flag.

For New Caledonia's future name, the exercise could also prove tricky, since the most elaborate and original form of name is also closely link to the FLNKS's independence philosophy: suggestions so far are to merge or associate the current name, New Caledonia, with the term "Kanaky".

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