5 Jul 2010

French PM expected to visit New Caledonia

9:01 am on 5 July 2010

There is a growing expectation in New Caledonia that the French prime minister, Francois Fillon, will make a visit to Noumea at the end of next week.

No official announcement has been made but Noumea's daily newspaper says a large military aircraft with French officials has arrived as an advance party to prepare the occasion.

The paper, Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes, says it is believed the visit will be used for Mr Fillon to hoist the flag of New Caledonia's pro-independence FLNKS movement next to the French flag on the French high commission.

Last month, he chaired follow-up talks on the 1998 Noumea Accord on greater autonomy with all of New Caledonia's key leaders as the territory gears up for a possible vote on independence after 2014.

There is no agreement yet on what New Caledonia's flag should be to express its peoples' joint destiny but suggestions have been made to add the Kanak flag to the French one.

Mr Fillon is reportedly due in Tokyo next week and may then fly to Noumea accompanied by several ministers, including the economics minister, Christine Lagarde.

He was briefly expected to host last July's Noumea summit with Pacific leaders but on short notice Paris decided to have it chaired by the foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner.