France to organise third New Caledonia independence referendum

New Caledonia votes a second time on independence from France Photo: AFP or licensors

France has been asked to organise another independence referendum in New Caledonia – a call strongly criticised by the territory’s pro-French parties.

The pro-indepedence camp invoked the 1998 Noumea Accord, which provides for a third referendum by October next year after the previous two votes – in 2018 and 2020 – saw a majority opt for the status quo.

The alliance of anti-independence parties, known as the Loyalists, has warned Paris that organising a third such vote risks a return to violent confrontations.

The Loyalists said the pro-independence side has rejected their and France’s offer to find a peaceful alternative to the referendum question, which asks voters whether they want full sovereignty.

They said for the past six months, the pro-independence leaders boycotted talks and never stopped saying they would never discuss anything but full sovereignty.

Last week, the French prime minister Jean Castex invited New Caledonia’s political leaders to Paris for meetings from 25 May to 3 June.

The overseas minister Sebastien Lecornu said it was time to raise New Caledonia’s future as unprecedented questions lie ahead.

The Paris talks will also involve President Emmanuel Macron, who visited New Caledonia three years ago.

Mr Lecornu said New Caledonia’s referendum campaign won’t be allowed to clash with next year’s French presidential election.

He also said work on the possible consequences of a Yes or a No vote has to be completed because New Caledonians have a right to know what they vote for.

The date will be set by Paris.

New Caledonia has been on the UN list of territories to be decolonised since 1986.

A first referendum on independence was held in 1987, but it was boycotted by the indigenous Kanaks while more than 98 percent voted in favour of remaining French.

 

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