‘It’s for New Caledonians to decide their future,’ says Macron on visit
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French President Emmanuel Macron underlined New Caledonians’ right to self-determination on Saturday in a visit to the French-controlled Pacific archipelago six months ahead of an independence referendum.
Scheduled for November, the independence referendum will ask voters the question "Do you want New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?"
Observers say that, based on electoral results and recent polls, the people are likely to vote to remain in France.
On Saturday, Macron will also hand the New Caledonian government the document that states that the archipelago became a French possession in 1853.
The gesture is supposed to symbolise the final chapter in the period of colonisation.
New Caledonia, an archipelago east of Australia, counts about 270,000 inhabitants including the native Kanaks, who represent about 40 percent of the population, and people of European descent. It enjoys a large degree of autonomy.
France's president attended ceremonies Saturday marking the 30th anniversary of when Kanak tribesmen took French police hostage on Ouvea island. The incident led to the deaths of four gendarmes and 19 hostage-takers.
Macron became the first French president ever to attend the ceremonies on the island. The president's office said Friday that his trip would focus on "gestures of commemoration and remembrance" with the leader's aim being to "honor the dead, the families and praise the gestures of reconciliation" that have since taken place.
The events on Ouvea prompted a 1988 agreement between rival loyalist and pro-independence factions.
Macron's office said the visit had been carefully prepared through exchanges with New Caledonia's traditional chiefs in order to recognise this sensitive part of the trip.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)