19 Oct 2007

French minister claims New Caledonians misunderstood him

3:32 pm on 19 October 2007

The French overseas territories minister, Christian Estrosi, says he was not understood during his two-day official visit to New Caledonia last week.

Mr Estrosi made the comment on a stop in Noumea after visiting Wallis and Futuna and attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Tonga.

He says he has been left with a feeling that he was either not understood or that people didn't want to understand him.

Mr Estrosi has now restated that he wants the 1998 Noumea Accord on greater autonomy to be respected and re-affirmed the French state's neutral role.

His visit last week resulted in acrimony with the French high commissioner resigning and pro-independence politicians then accusing the minister of opening a new political crisis.

Simon Loueckhote, who is New Caledonia's member of the French senate and a member of France's ruling UMP Party, called into question the French government's understanding of the territory's situation.

The minister's visit coincided with industrial action and provoked discussion on how to deal with dissent.

UMP leaders in Noumea have valued his comments, saying he has confirmed without ambiguity that New Caledonia's future is within France.