Independence Dispute Pits Sydney, Wellington against Paris
UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ France fought demands Monday from Australia, New Zealand and 26 other U.N. members to pave the way to independence for the strife-torn Pacific territory of New Caledonia.
Zimbabwe, the African nation currently heading the 101-member non-aligned movement, was among those calling for the 159-member General Assembly to adopt a resolution returning New Caledonia to the world body’s list of territories entitled to self-determination and independence.
Australian Ambassador Richard A. Woolcott dismissed as a myth France’s contention that the 25-island group east of Australia is part of France.
″France cannot indefinitely resist in New Caledonia the wave of decolonization which has already washed over this earth,″ he said. France won control of the islands in 1853 and in 1946 removed them from a U.N. list.
Woolcott cited strong pressure for independence from Kanaks, the native Melanesians who make up 43 percent of New Caledonia’s 146,000 people. But they are outnumbered by European settlers, Asians and Polynesians who want the islands to remain French.
Last month, a 14-year-old boy died and a dozen other people were injured in fights between independence supporters and pro-French militants.
Woolcott criticized French plans to hold a referendum next July saying ″it is not clear what questions will be posed or who will be eligible to vote.″
But Claude de Kemoularia, France’s U.N. ambassador, replied: ″If the New Caledonians want no longer to be French, they have both the right and possibility of doing so.″
He said Australia and New Zealand did not set much of an example for multiracial societies, given treatment of their own aborigine and Maori minorities.
Woolcott supported previous calls from Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands that only Kanaks be allowed to vote in the referendum. France rejects restricting the electorate.
The General Assembly is expected to vote on the resolution Tuesday.