French Prime Minister visits and reassures New Caledonia
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrived in New Caledonia Friday, 26 July, and left today, having seen and reassured New Caledonians about the independence referendum slated to start in 2014. Here on a visit between South Korea and Malaysia, he’s had a packed visit, speaking before Congress, visiting the nickel mine in the North and travelling to Ouvéa (one of the Loyalty Islands). He’s made a number of speeches, congratulating New Caledonia on its reconciliation (following “Les Evenements” of 1988) and reaffirming that the promised independence referendum will come to pass in 2019 at the latest.
With gross inequalities on the island – with significant inequality in income distribution and access to employment, he is reported to have said that the challenge remains to provide a perspective for the future. But he underlined France’s commitment to the last phase of the Noumea Accord to help organise the independence referendum between 2014 and 2018. He also stated that Paris will remain neutral during the process. A parliamentary delegation is reportedly being sent in September to prepare the work.
Yesterday, Mr. Ayrault called for reconciliation at the Ouvéa cave that was the scene of a hostage-taking that ended in the deaths of 19 separatists, 4 gendarmes and 2 French parachutists in 1988.
“I wanted to be here among those whose mourning, remembrance and reconciliation have shown much promise for the future,” Mr. Ayrault said. “The forgiveness that has happened here is a great lesson for all, and the police and army have done the same on their side. I wish to unite these two memories in the same process of reconciliation and the same willingness to build the future of New Caledonia.”
Naturally, I found this discours very interesting. On the ground, I am not entirely sure that we have reached as much forgiveness and reconciliation as Mr. Ayrault perceives. And I find it extremely curious that we have all been speaking of the beginning of the independence in 2014 – but it seems clear with this visit, that the referendum will be pushed back to 2018 “at the latest”, meaning 2019. I’ve even read 2022.
With France providing €1.6 billion a year to support New Caledonia’s 250,000 inhabitants, it’ll be interesting to see what local voters will decide whenever it does come to the vote.