PIF urges open dialogue on New Caledonia unrest

May 16, 2024 6:50 am

[Source: Aljazeera]

Outgoing Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna has stressed the urgent need for open and honest dialogue concerning the ongoing unrest in New Caledonia.

Puna pointed to a divisive referendum held in December 2021 as the root cause of the current turmoil.

Speaking from Cook Islands, Puna emphasized the importance of addressing the underlying issues and seeking potential solutions through transparent discussion.

Article continues after advertisement

Puna, who personally observed the referendum expressed concern about its timing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

He noted that it clashed with the Kanak tradition of mourning for a year following a death.

Puna says this conflict prevented many Kanak people from participating in the referendum as they felt unable to campaign or engage in other activities during their mourning period, thereby undermining their democratic rights.

According to Puna, the referendum conducted against the agreed timeline outlined in the Noumea Accord has triggered widespread dissatisfaction among the Kanak population, resulting in protests and civil unrest in New Caledonia.

“I think it can be resolved in the wisdom of our leaders at this time, it is one thing that we really need to talk about and talk about freely and honestly- what the causes of the problems and what are the solutions can be.”

Forum Chair and Prime Minister of Cook Islands Mark Brown also highlighted the importance of recognizing New Caledonia’s aspirations for greater autonomy and independence within the Pacific Islands Forum.

“The civil unrest that’s occurring in New Caledonia, it is caused to recognize the greater autonomy, greater independence from the people on those islands so it is something that as a member of the Forum now, we will be able to provide support, assistance to these member countries.”

Brown stressed the Forum’s role in providing support and assistance to member countries facing civil unrest with a focus on finding peaceful solutions and preventing further escalation of conflict.

The recent unrest in New Caledonia erupted as protesters demonstrated against a proposed constitutional reform being debated in the national assembly in Paris, which aimed to expand the electorate in the territory’s provincial elections.

France had committed in the Noumea Accord of 1998 to gradually granting more political power to the Pacific island territory of nearly 300,000 people.

Under the agreement, New Caledonia has conducted three referendums on its ties with France, all of which rejected independence.

However, the pro-independence Indigenous Kanaks rejected the result of the last referendum held in December 2021, which they boycotted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Noumea Accord has also resulted in New Caledonia’s voter lists not being updated since 1998.

This means that island residents who arrived from mainland France or elsewhere anytime in the past 25 years do not have the right to participate in provincial polls.

The French government has criticized this exclusion as “absurd,” while separatists fear that expanding voter lists would benefit pro-France politicians and further marginalize the Indigenous Kanak people.