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Kanak leader calls for Forum to delay New Caledonia membership
9:05 pm GMT+12, 08/09/2016, New Caledonia

By Nic Maclellan (Islands Business magazine) in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia

A Kanak independence leader has called on the Pacific Islands Forum to defer making a decision on New Caledonia’s application for full membership of the regional organisation.

In a letter to Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor, obtained by Islands Business, Roch Wamytan of the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) wrote:

“For us, it is so out of the question for the moment, and as long as New Caledonia is not independent, that she could obtain the status of full member within the PIF.“

Roch Wamytan is a member of Union Calédonienne (UC), the largest political party in the FLNKS coalition, which is seeking independence from France. He is a former FLNKS President and Speaker of the Congress of New Caledonia, and currently serves as the President of the UC-FLNKS and Nationalists parliamentary group in the Congress.

Wamytan also served as a member of the Eminent Persons Group appointed by the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), to review its operations after 25 years of work. The FLNKS, rather than the government of New Caledonia, is already a full member of the MSG, alongside the governments of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. A key element in the formation of the MSG was solidarity with the FLNKS, and the sub-regional organisation has long provided diplomatic and financial support to the independence coalition.

Writing to the Forum Secretary General on behalf of his parliamentary group, Wamytan states:

"It is inconceivable for us, as regard to the Melanesian Spearhead Group, that the FLNKS could give its place to the government of New Caledonia. Because it would definitely let France enter in these regional organisations, following the principle of the “Trojan horse”, organisations which were of all fights for the Kanak people's independence.”

After the signing of the 1998 Noumea Accord in the French Pacific dependency, New Caledonia began greater engagement with the Forum, the 16-member regional organisation that is made up of independent and sovereign states. New Caledonia obtained Forum observer status in 1999, and was joined as observer by French Polynesia in 2004. Both countries were upgraded to associate status at the 2006 Forum in Apia, when Wallis and Futuna also joined as observer.

Since that time, successive governments in New Caledonia, under Presidents Martin, Gomes, Ligeard and Germain – all opponents of independence – have lobbied to upgrade from associate to full membership of the Forum, even though New Caledonia is not a fully independent and sovereign nation.

Over the last decade, Forum leaders have been seeking to expand their engagement with the US, French and New Zealand territories of the Pacific. Regional relations have also improved with France, which is an active partner on climate change, development programs and EU-relations.

But with a referendum on self-determination in New Caledonia scheduled for late 2018, Roch Wamytan has called on Forum leaders to delay their decision on membership. His letter states: 

“We are today in the last mandate of the Noumea Accord, and the political development of these last months does not allow us to envisage the granting, to New Caledonia, of a status of full member within the PIF. In this way, allow non-independent and non-autonomous countries to become full member of the PIF is equivalent to bring our colonial power as a full member. Because the sovereign powers and full sovereignty is always that of the colonial power.  

“Support from regional institutions and independent countries in the region is indispensable in our fight for independence. …Considering elements developed above, I am writing to ask for your understanding, kindness, and support of your high authority to postpone the examination of the candidacy of New Caledonia to the status of full member of the Pacific Islands Forum.”

New Caledonia’s President Philippe Germain is in Pohnpei this week, to participate in the 47th Pacific Islands Forum (but not the leaders’ retreat on Saturday which is limited to current members).

However in a phone interview, Wamytan told Islands Business that no members of the FLNKS had been included in the New Caledonia delegation to the Pohnpei Forum (a change from recent years when both supporters and opponents of independence had collaborated on the regional scene).

Wamytan’s letter states: “Unfortunately, since 2006, we notice a sidelining of the independentist executives concerning all the decisions, as political as diplomatic, relative to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), taken by the government of New Caledonia.

“The Melanesian Spearhead Group, the PIF and the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation were also notified on the problems that our country crosses, in particular on the question of the establishment and the revision of the special electoral rolls for the provincial elections and for the consultation on the country's achievement of full sovereignty.”

Alongside New Caledonia, French Polynesia is also seeking to upgrade its status within the Forum. President Edouard Fritch, an active member of the Polynesian Leaders Group and regional networks, is in Pohnpei this week to participate in Forum discussions.

In recent years, France has supported the governments of New Caledonia and French Polynesia as they seek to upgrade their membership of the Forum. The issue was raised by France’s Overseas Minister George Pau-Langevin at the 2015 Post-Forum Dialogue in Port Moresby and the French Polynesia government raised the issue at the 2015 Pacific Islands Forum and the Polynesian Leaders Group summit in Tahiti.

Over the last year since the Port Moresby Forum, France has continued to lobby for the change. At the November 2015 France-Oceania summit in Paris, held just before the global climate talks that led to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, French President Francois Hollande stated: “I hope that the Pacific Islands Forum could welcome to its breast, both New Caledonia and French Polynesia as full members, and Wallis and Futuna as an associate member. These three territories will be our representatives.”

The France-Oceania summit communique noted: “We recognise the aspirations of New Caledonia and French Polynesia to become full members of the Pacific Islands Forum and for the Pacific Islands Forum members and the territories to deepen cooperation in this respect.”

The Forum sent a special ministerial mission to French Polynesia in July 2015, led by PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato, to assess their application for full membership. 

Speaking to journalists in Pohnpei this week, Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor said: “We did have a mission that went there at the request of the leaders, led by the Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea and accompanied by the Ambassador of Palau and officials. They met with many people in French Polynesia. We also met with those from the self-determination movement, Oscar Temaru. After that, the leaders said go back and re-look at the criteria for membership.”

When Forum leaders considered the ministerial mission report at last year’s Forum in Papua New Guinea, they deferred a decision and delegated the Forum Secretariat to conduct a review of the criteria for admission of new Forum members. This review will be considered by Forum leaders this week. 

A key concern was whether the existing governance arrangements of French Polynesia would enable its government “to participate independently and effectively as a full member, in the full complement of political deliberation, decision making and commitments of the Forum”.

This was a diplomatic reference to France’s ongoing control of the judiciary, defence and other key sectors. 

Dame Meg Taylor says that these criteria focus on the competencies of self-government.

“It’s not rocket science – it’s about who makes the decisions,” she said. “Often the argument used is that Cook Islands and Niue have a relationship with New Zealand. Can you look for parallels? If you look at the competencies of self-government in others territories, you can deduce from that.”

At the 47th Forum leaders retreat on Saturday, the issue of engagement between the countries and territories of the region takes on greater importance. With French presidential and legislative elections to be held in mid-2017 and New Caledonia’s referendum on self-determination scheduled for late 2018, Wamytan’s intervention is designed to highlight the uncertain times ahead.


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