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New Caledonian president briefs UN on decolonisation
4:14 pm GMT+12, 08/10/2010, United States
New Caledonia's president is in New York this week to deliver a presentation to the United Nations Decolonisation Committee, part of the process set out by the 1998 Noumea Accord to grant the French territory autonomy.

New Caledonia is just 4 years off having the possibility of voting on independence, and since the committee hearing last October has chosen - for instance - its own national anthem.

Radio Australia’s presenter Geraldine Coutts speaks with Philippe Gomes, New Caledonia's president with official translator Stephanie Maynadier

PHILIPPE GOMES, PRESIDENT OF NEW CALEDONIA (Translator) STEPHANIE MAYNADIER: Okay, the answer is - New Caledonia is on track. This was enshrined in the Noumea Accord, signed by three parties, the pro-independence movement, the anti-independence movement and the state. This accord defined how more and more power will be transferred from the French state to the New Caledonian government. It also plans for a referendum between 2014 and 2018 during which the New Caledonian population would be consulted and at that point the population will say whether yes the vote for independence or yes they want to keep a strong relation with France.

COUTTS: Now Mr Gomes, the New Caledonian president has made a presentation to the United Nations Decolonisation Committee. What did you say to the committee?

PHILIPPE GOMES, PRESIDENT OF NEW CALEDONIA (Translator) STEPHANIE MAYNADIER: Well I based my speech on the resolution that was taken on December 2009. I indicated firstly that New Caledonia was on its way towards emancipation and was transferring more and more powers to the country. And secondly, I indicated that we also put into place a number of measures towards social cohesions and one the main principles is to redistribute in an equitable manner the fruit of growth. Thirdly, I indicated also that we are looking to be more integrated in the region and including within the [Pacific Islands Forum] and we are working towards more bilateral co-operation to have our voice heard and to assume a full participation in the region.

COUTTS: Since the last committee hearing, last October, there has been some progress made. For instance, there is a new national anthem and a new flag. What other positive progress do you see towards decolonisation that has been made since the last meeting in October?

Yes, we have adopted a new identity fund for this problem. There is an anthem and a model for the country as well as a bank note design. These were accepted and adopted. We are still waiting to decide on a flag for the country and a name for the country. In the meantime, we are using the FLNKS flag next to the French flag and this is only in order to wait for the next stage which will be a flag adapted by all. We've also passed a local employment protection act in favour of hiring local Caledonians and we have continued and achieved the transfer of three powers - that is education, maritime transportation and air transportation. So these are very concrete measures that have being taken in the past year towards decolonisation and emancipation

COUTTS: Will New Caledonia be ready for decolonisation and elections on that issue by the time frame that you have described earlier - 2014 to '18?

PHILIPPE GOMES, PRESIDENT OF NEW CALEDONIA (Translator): STEPHANIE MAYNADIER: Yes, as you know between 2014 and 2018 a referendum has been organised and the New Caledonians will be expecting whether yes, they choose independence and therefore will decide to transfer powers to New Caledonia, or it's yes these powers are to remain within France. Yet the issue is how to formalise the question. If the question is asked that way, this will probably create once again opposition between the two movements. So the accord last June decided to create a steering committee to which the signatories, the three parties - the state the pro- and the anti-independence movements - in order to finalise a question that will bring together the different segments of the population and avoid more opposition. This is exactly what we are working on in order to build a common destiny that takes all citizens into account.

Well, the point you've raised there Mr President about the opposition from some quarters in New Caledonia continues. There are some politicians who are not on board with the decolonisation process. As it is not to far away now, do you think you will be able to get everyone together and move forward as one?

PHILIPPE GOMES, PRESIDENT OF NEW CALEDONIA (Translator) STEPHANIE MAYNADIER : Yes, and it will not be the first time in the history of our country. In 1988, the Matignon Accord referendum was organised and almost 60 per cent of the population voted yes. In 1998, for the Noumea Accord, once again a referendum was organised and 72 per cent of the population answered yes. Therefore in about 20 years, those were two important stages during which the pro-independence movement and the anti-independence movement came together towards the same political solution. This is the same thing that should happen between 2014 and 2018 and as I said we will need to find the right question formulated in order to bring together the different sensibilities and in my country this is the way it has worked and this is the way need to work towards peace. We have an obligation to succeed.

COUTTS: Will the generation gaps create a new problem for the president as he moves forward to implement the agreements under the Noumea Accord? I am just wondering if the younger generations now are as interested or even understand because they didn't have to go through the fight that the older generations have?

PHILIPPE GOES, PRESIDENT OF NEW CALEDONIA (Translator) STEPHANIE MAYNADIER: That is a very real issue today. We are now 20, 25 years after the events and there is a whole generation that does not remember this or did not live through this, so it's really important for us to get them involved. It is not easy, however, it is an absolute must for our country. We cannot build a country without the younger generation and we need political solutions to move towards a common destiny and this is a challenge for us. They need to be included in this important project towards a common future.

Aside from the Decolonisation Committee, has Mr Gomes planned any other meetings while he is in New York?

PHILIPPE GOMES, PRESIDENT OF NEW CALEDONIA (Translator) STEPHANIE MAYNADIER: Oh yes of course, we are meeting with the permanent representative of Papua New Guinea as well as the Chairman of the [inaudible] Committee with the permanent representative for Zimbabwe. We are also meeting of course with the French permanent representative and we have a meeting with the permanent representative of Vanuatu and to get with the Secretary-General of the UN, as well as other bilateral meetings. All these meetings are aiming at explaining the progress made by New Caledonia towards its objective.


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