New Caledonia returns to claim independence on the day of Emmanuel Macron’s visit. But the French president rejects any hypothesis to resolve relations with the external territory. “The last three referendums have shown how the people of New Caledonia want to stay with Paris,” he said today at a press conference in Noumea, upon his arrival in the Pacific archipelago, a French possession since 1853. Macron is expected to meet local leaders during his state visit this week to discuss the future status of New Caledonia. 40% of the population are indigenous Kanaks, most of whom wish to “divorce” Paris. Pro-independence parties, which have been in power since 2017, want full sovereignty by 2025. Opponents of independence say there is no need for another referendum. On the contrary, they demand greater integration with France. Since 2018, New Caledonia has held three consultations on independence. The first two polls saw the pro-independence vote rise from 43.3% in 2018 to 46.7% in 2020. But when the last referendum was called in 2021, pro-independence parties boycotted the vote due to the impact of Covid on the Kanak population and voter turnout was just over 40%. Pro-independence activists refused to acknowledge the result.
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In fact, the “divorce” was denied. Hence the words with which Macron referred to “the close relations between New Caledonia and France” and “the strategic location in the Pacific Ocean with the navy and air forces stationed here”. The French president, who will visit Papua New Guinea in the coming days, stressed that “New Caledonia has a role to play in the Indo-Pacific region.” France left the door open to the possibility of another vote in a generation or two, but the pro-independence coalition rejected this timing. Laurie Humony, Secretary General of the Oceanian Democratic Caucus, announced that the movement would reopen negotiations “because we do not want to fall into the trap of neo-colonialism”. Pro-independence groups are also pursuing their demands at the United Nations. At the same time, citizen groups have launched appeals over the validity of the 2021 referendum in French courts and the European Court of Human Rights.
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