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President Sarkozy to visit New Caledonia for Pacific Games

Dual flags

Dual flags: The French Tricolore and the Kanak independence flag.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Patrick Decloitre in Suva

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office has announced a Presidential visit to New Caledonia late July 2011 for the official opening of the South Pacific Games, this year being hosted in the French Pacific territory.

The visit would be the first to the Pacific for the French head of state, whose office had earlier announced similar trips that did not eventuate.

The 2011 Pacific Games will be officially opened in New Caledonia in late August.

Earlier announcements of a presidential visit to New Caledonia included one on the occasion of the last France-Oceania meeting, that took place in late July 2009 in Nouméa.

The two former such France-Oceania summits took place in 2003 in Pape’ete (French Polynesia) and Paris.

They were both chaired by then French President Jacques Chirac.

‘Associate’ status
As a result of what has been perceived as a restoration of strong ties between France, its Pacific territories and the Pacific Islands Forum member States, New Caledonia and French Polynesia were in 2005 granted the new “associate member” status within the regional organisation.

Wallis and Futuna, the third French Pacific territory, became an observer.

The visit was also planned to include a stopover in Australia, but it was finally then Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Kouchner who had to step in and chair the meeting.

This year, Sarkozy’s entourage during his visit to the Pacific could also include French associate minister in charge of Overseas, Marie-Luce Penchard.

The French government has also officially labelled 2011 the Year of French Overseas departments and territories.

In July 2010, French Prime minister François Fillon paid a visit to New Caledonia where he witnessed for the first time the hoisting of both the French national flag and a “local” flag, that of the pro-independence movement FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front) as part of steps for New Caledonia to move towards its own
identity, as set out in the autonomy Nouméa Accord signed in 1998 between pro-independence, pro-French parties and the French government.

The Pacific Games, this year, to be held between August 28 and September 12, 2010, would be the first opportunity for this dual flag system to be implemented during an international event.

Dual flag system
During a recent follow-up committee meeting of the Nouméa Accord, in June 2010, the notion of the dual flag system was described as being in line with “the spirit of the historic handshake between Jacques Lafleur and Jean-Marie Tjibaou” (in 1988) and it was therefore recommended that “the tricolour (French) flag and that of the FLNKS should be hoisted
side by side in New Caledonia”.

Following grave civil unrest related to the independence issue in the first half of the 1980s, pro-French leader Jacques Lafleur and pro-independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou signed a first political agreement, the Matignon-Oudinot Accord, in 1988.

In 1989 Tjibaou was murdered by a hardliner within his own pro-independence camp.

Lafleur died on 4 December 2010.

Ten years later, the Nouméa Accord was signed and provides a de facto roadmap for New Caledonia’s increased autonomy, with on the agenda a
gradual transfer of powers from metropolitan France to local institutions, a “re-balancing” of economic wealth and opportunities between the affluent South and the less favoured Northern part of the island territory and a possible referendum on self-determination between 2014 and 2018.

Patrick Decloitre is editor of the Fiji-based Oceania Flash independent news service specialising in the Francophone Pacific.