With the referendum on independence less than a month away in New Caledonia, preparations are underway for the vote. Officially, the campaign begins on October 22, but it really started 40 years ago.
In 1988, France brokered an agreement called the Matignon Accords; restive Kanaks agreed to suspend their armed struggle for independence, mostly French settlers agreed to recognize indigenous rights, and the calm that followed allowed France to reduce its sometimes deadly use of force.
Ten years later, the Noumea Accord followed, where France agreed to transfer some powers to an elected parliament and guaranteed a vote on independence within thirty years. The deadline comes up November 4.
As required under the accords, France detailed the implications of the referendum last week. Status quo, if the vote is no; the people would retain French nationality and European citizenship. France would retain control of defense, police, justice, finance and foreign affairs. If the vote is yes, the statement said that France would immediately open talks for an orderly transfer of those powers.
Current funding arrangements would be obsolete, the statement said, and the French parliament would draft a law to determine if any New Caledonians could keep French citizenship.
An opinion poll released last week reports that two thirds of eligible voters plan to vote to stay with France, and there are fears of violence if it does turn out that way. Extra security will be on hand, and sales of alcohol will be banned.
The Noumea Accords allow for a second referendum within two years if at least one-third of the local parliament agrees; if the vote is no again, there could be a third referendum, in 2022.