New Caledonia - independence

France accords New Caledonia a third, and final, referendum on independence

New Caledonian crows have an unusual ability to make tools. But whether the country's population will opt to flee the French nest is far from a done deal.
New Caledonian crows have an unusual ability to make tools. But whether the country's population will opt to flee the French nest is far from a done deal. AFP/File

Paris has granted its overseas territory of New Caledonia a third referendum on independence after two earlier votes saw the archipelago narrowly chose to remain part of France, officials said.

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France's minister for overseas territories, Sebastien Lecornu, agreed to a request Thursday from the New Caledonia legislature to hold a third and final referendum on self-determination in the next 18 months as provided for under the terms of a decolonisation plan agreed in 1998.

The French government will "keep to its word and organise the referendum before October 2022," he said in a statement.

The 1998 "Noumea Accord", which ended a deadly conflict between the mostly pro-independence indigenous Kanak population and the descendants of European settlers, provided for up to three independence referendums by 2022 if requested by at least a third of the local legislature.

In February this year, pro-independence leaders from the FLNKS party  took a majority in the government for the first time since France granted the archipelago autonomy two decades ago.

On Thursday a group of 26 such lawmakers - just under half of the total legislature - sent a joint letter to the French High Commission requesting the third vote.

Lecornu called for "the engagement of all to ensure the referendum campaign is peaceful, respectful and constructive".

The FLNKS want the vote to be in 2022 but Loyalist parties want it this year.

Breaking away

New Caledonia, which has been controlled by France for almost 170 years, has voted on independence twice in the last three years.

In the first referendum in 2018, 57 percent voted to remain part of France; in the second, in October 2020, that went down to 53 percent. 

French President Emmanuel Macron said after the 2020 vote that he felt a "profound sense of gratitude" over the result, but also "humility" at how close it was, which few had predicted.

France, which is more than 16,000 kilometres away from New Caledonia, subsidises the territory with around €1.5 billion every year, the equivalent of more than 15 percent of its gross domestic product.

New Caledonia is the world’s fourth-largest nickel producer. The metal is mainly used to produce stainless steel but is also much sought after to produce the most powerful lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. 

(with AFP)

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