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New Caledonia - Melanesian Spearhead Group Summit

New Caledonia To Host First Melanesian Spearhead Group Summit

NOUMEA, July 16 (Oceania Flash/SPC) - New Caledonia is later this week hosting the first Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) summit in its history, after an eleventh hour compromise was reached between local government and pro-independence MSG member, the FLNKS party, Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reported on Monday.

The MSG was initially founded in 1988 as a support movement to the independence of New Caledonia, on the initiative of neighbouring Vanuatu's Prime Minister Walter Lini.

In the 1990s, Fiji joined MSG-founding Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia's FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front).

This year's 14th summit is taking place later this week, starting on Thursday with high on the agenda such issues as regional trade and economic co-operation between Melanesian partners.

Since Monday, about 20 economic officials from Melanesia are meeting ahead of the summit in Nouméa.

The decision for New Caledonia to play host to the summit comes after two months of negotiations between the local government and FLNKS, who have finally held a press conference on Monday to confirm the meeting and announce a compromise.

The French territory, which had never hosted the meeting before, had to deal with a situation it had never faced before, especially on the protocol level.

New Caledonia is not a member of the MSG.

In May this year, FLNKS President Roch Wamytan announced from Paris (where he had met French State Secretary for Overseas Christian Paul) that in his view, the "inviting power" was FLNKS only.

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The statement sparked a controversy which at one stage questioned the very meeting being held in New Caledonia.

But both Wamytan and New Caledonia's President Pierre Frogier, at a joint press conference on Monday, have pointed out that the MSG summit was "invited by the government of New Caledonia in agreement with the FLNKS and with the help of the French State".

Frogier mentioned the "necessary integration" of New Caledonia in its "regional environment", as per the letter of a Nouméa accord signed in May, 1998.

The accord was signed by Wamytan, anti-independence RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia within the French Republic) President Jacques Lafleur and French Prime minister Lionel Jospin.

It paved the way for increased autonomy for the French territory, a gradual handing over of powers from metropolitan France to local authorities and a possible independence within "15 to 20 years" from the date of signing.

Frogier told local media on Monday that the MSG's initial objectives were no longer relevant.

"The Nouméa accord (implementation) is underway and I think if things go

well, New Caledonia can have a role in this organisation".

"New Caledonia is an islet of political stability in the Pacific, considerable investments have been made in the very short term".

Last May, reacting to Wamytan's Paris statements, Frogier had said the concept of FLNKS as an "inviting power" was "in total contradiction with

what had been jointly decided by the French government and the New Caledonian government".

"It was the territory's executive branch role to invite these countries to meet in Nouméa (...) The conditions are no longer met for the MSG summit to be held in Nouméa", Frogier said at the time.

The recently-elected President also indicated then he would make an official representation to the French State, through its representative in New Caledonia, High Commissioner Thierry Lataste, to obtain "a clear position from the (French) ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Secretariat for Overseas" on the matter.

In the final, consensual setup of the meeting, FLNKS had to make concessions: they include giving up raising its flag next to the four member independent states, shortening the duration of the summit and accepting that the New Caledonian government (which consists of seven RPCR/FCCI coalition members and four FLNKS members) take part in the summit to be held at the Meridien hotel in Nouméa.

"But this is not the essential, the main thing is to work towards enabling New Caledonia to implement the Nouméa accord in its principle. That is that New Caledonia integrates more and more to its natural environment, and its closest natural environment is Melanesia", Wamytan said on Monday.

Wamytan recalled that one of the MSG's "historical" objectives was to promote "the re-birth of Melanesian identity".

During the two-day summit (July 19-20), FLNKS is expected to take over the roving presidency of the MSG for the next two years.

Other items on the agenda would include a proposal to set up a permanent

secretariat for the sub-regional organisation.


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