12 Dec 2005

Protestors in New Caledonia push for northern nickel mine to go ahead

7:38 am on 12 December 2005

An estimated 1,500 people in New Caledonia took to the streets of Noumea this weekend in an anti-French protest.

The protesters were pushing for the construction of a 2.2 billion US dollar nickel plant in the territory's mainly Kanak northern province.

Kanak unions and parties allege that France wants to thwart the construction of the northern nickel plant in a bid to stifle pro-independence aspirations in defiance of the 1998 Noumea accord.

The financing of the so-called Koniambo project has been at the centre of protracted negotiations, with the northern province's Canadian mining partner, Falconbridge, now saying it will fund the project in full.

The Canadian position was announced by the president of the northern province, Paul Neaoutyine, after top level talks in Paris involving Falconbridge and the French government.

This comes as the French state-owned mining company, Eramet, has taken court action in a bid to freeze any possible transfer of the key Koniambo ore deposit.

Falconbridge has to commit itself irrevocably to building a smelter before the end of the month to benefit from massive French subsidies.

But the push by Falconbridge follows an announcement by the Canadian mining concern, Inco, that its planned takeover of Falconbridge has been deferred until January.

The uncertainty has prompted Kanak unions to maintain a call for a general strike in a campaign to ensure the northern project won't be abandoned.