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Pacific News Minute: France Sets Deadline for Referendum in New Caledonia

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An agreement in 1998 requires a referendum on independence in New Caledonia before the end of next year, and now, we finally have some dates. The new government in Paris says the local government has until next May to organize the vote. If it fails to reach agreement, France will do the job itself…we have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.


Nineteen years ago, pro and anti-independence forces agreed on a decolonization process in New Caledonia, which helped calm years of unrest between indigenous Kanaks and settlers. The Noumea Accords called for a plebiscite on independence within 20 years.


With that deadline now rapidly approaching, this year’s earthquake in French politics posed a new problem as veterans of both the Socialist and Republican parties familiar with the process were swept out. But new Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has now set a deadline.


If the Congress in Noumea cannot organize the referendum by next May, Paris will step in and hold the vote in November, 2018.


The biggest hurdle, is who gets to vote. Under the Noumea Accords, only those who’ve been citizens since 1994 are eligible.


A report by 12 U.N. experts earlier this month did little to settle long standing disputes, concluding only that the electoral rolls, could be improved. Another issue, is how to phrase the question on the ballot.


And a lot has changed in New Caledonian politics.


The once-unified pro and anti-independence camps have both splintered. In the recent elections for the National Assembly, for example, former President Harold Martin urged his supporters to vote for a pro-independence candidate rather than a long-time rival. Some pro-independence parties fielded candidates, others called for a boycott, which helped anti-independence candidates win both seats.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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