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Conflict in New Caledonia

New Caledonia, a French colonial holding in the south Pacific, has a long history of tension between its European (largely French) colonists and the indigenous Melanesians, also knows as Kanaks. A notable Kanak revolt that occurred in 1878 claimed over a thousand lives and resulted in increased repression on the part of the French colonizers.

By the late Twentieth Century, Kanaks made up about 45% of New Caledonia's population, while Europeans (most born in the territory), made up about a third of the colony's population. Around this time there were growing pro-independence sentiments among the Konaks, while at the same time the European population strongly opposed the idea. In the 1980s the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanake et Socialists(FLNKS) was founded under the leadership of Jean-Marie Tjibaou. In November of 1984 violent clashes broke out between the pro-independence Kanaks and the Europeans who opposed independence. Tjibaou, leader of the Kanaka Socialist National Liberation Front, the Melanesian independence movement, reacted to the deaths of the two front leaders by rejecting the referendum and calling for immediate and complete independence.

These were followed by violent riots in the capital, Noumea, causing France to declare a state of emergency lasting six months. On 12 January 1985 France announced that it was sending 1,000 more troops to this South Pacific territory. There are already 2,280 French military police and 3,000 regular army troops in New Caledonia. A transitional regime was instituted during this period that allowed different groups to voice their concerns and issues about New Caledonia's progress toward independence.

The independence movement got a boost when the United Nations put New Caledonia on its decolonization list in 1986. France viewed the move as an attempt by the UN to interfere in its internal affairs and consequently expelled the Australian consul general from Noumea (Australia had been highly critical of France). In 1988 the peace process was marred when Kanak separatists attacked a police station and took 27 hostages. The French government retaliated, resulting in the death of 19 Kanaks. Soon after, pro- and anti- independence groups agreed to the Matignon Accord designed to reconcile the two camps by proposing an end to direct French rule and proposed a vote on independence to be held in 1998.

Tjibaou was assassinated in 1989 by radical members of FLNKS who believed that he had sold out the Kanaks by his participation in the peace process. The violence began to settle down in the early 1990s, but the proposed vote was later postponed by the 1998 Noumea Accord that gave New Caledonia greater autonomy from France and further postponed the vote on independence until 2014-2019. New Caledonian citizenship was also established. France claimed that the delay in the vote was due to fears of renewed violence, while some suspect that the actual reason was because France did not want to chance loosing New Caledonia's economic assets.



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