Macron’s ‘dialogue mission’ takes a break from unrest-ridden New Caledonia

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The French
The French "dialogue mission" to Kanaky New Caledonia -- Rémi Bastille (from left), Frédéric Potier and Eric Thiers -- returned to France last week for consultation. Image: RNZ

By Patrick Decloitre, RNZ Pacific correspondent French Pacific desk

A “dialogue mission” set up by French President Emmanuel Macron when he visited New Caledonia last month has reportedly left the French Pacific territory.

The “mediation and work” mission consists of three high-level public servants — Eric Thiers, Frédéric Potier and Rémi Bastille — who have all been previously working on New Caledonian affairs.

Local media reported the trio had left New Caledonia mid-week to “report to Paris” on the progress of their mission. They said they were planning to return to New Caledonia shortly.

During the first two weeks of their stay, they are reported to have held meetings behind closed doors with about 100 political, economic and civil society leaders.

The pause in their work is believed to be in accordance with an announcement from pro-independence umbrella group FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front), which consists of several pro-independence parties, that it would hold its national Congress next Saturday.

The main item on the group’s agenda would be to announce a common stance on New Caledonia’s grave civil unrest, which started on May 13 in protest against a scheduled amendment to the French Constitution.

Eight people have died in the unrest, including two French police officers.

The amendment aims at “unfreezing” New Caledonia’s electoral roll for local elections to allow any citizen having resided there for at least 10 years to cast their vote at provincial and Congress (Parliament) elections.

This was perceived by the pro-independence movement as likely to dilute indigenous votes and therefore weaken their political representation.

A state of emergency was lifted in the territory in late May but a security force of more than 3000 could remain until after the Paris Olympics.

Union Calédonienne refuses to meet dialogue mission
In the face of an ever-widening rift within the FLNKS, one of its main components, the Union Calédonienne (UC), issued a release last Wednesday, saying it “did not wish to meet the dialogue mission . . .  under the current circumstances”.

It said talks with the French dialogue mission may take place, but only after the FLNKS held its Congress and only if the final endorsement process for the constitutional amendment was dropped.

“Such an announcement, in our view, would be the only trigger that would allow to sustainably appease New Caledonia’s situation,” the group said.

The UC also called for the “unification” of the pro-independence movement.

FLNKS, in a more moderate stance, earlier sent a letter to the three French dialogue mission members saying that Macron should “clarify” his stance on the proposed constitutional amendment.

He earlier said it could be submitted to the French people by way of a referendum, which caused an uproar in New Caledonia.

Macron later said he was “only mentioning the options available under the French Constitution” and it was “merely a a reading of the law, not an intention”.

The FLNKS said Macron’s intentions were not clear enough and his statements were no guarantee that the reform would be dropped.

That confusion “prevents our militants being receptive to the appeal for calm and appeasement”, the group said.

Moderate Calédonie Ensemble leader Philippe Gomès has also called for an end to the legislative process in order for law and order to be restored.

The unrest had left the economy in “tatters”, he told local media.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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