13 Jun 2003

French minister due in New Caledonia on Noumea Accord discussions

3:41 pm on 13 June 2003

The French minister in charge of overseas territories, Brigitte Girardin, is due in New Caledonia this weekend for a review of the 1998 Noumea accord on greater autonomy.

The talks of the so-called committee of signatories is to be held for the first time in Kone, in the mainly Kanak northern province, after earlier meetings were held in Paris or alternatively in Noumea.

Mrs Girardin says amid all talk of re-balancing New Caledonia's resources, at times preference needs to be given to the northern province, which is far poorer than the southern province with its capital, Noumea.

Among issues to be raised are concerns about the collegial system of the territorial government, the make-up of the electorate in future key votes and financial support for a planned nickel plant in the north of the main island.

She will also help prepare next month's visit to Noumea by President Jacques Chirac, the first French head of state to visit New Caledonia in 18 years.

Mr Chirac last visited New Caledonia in 1987 as France's prime minister.