14 Nov 2013

French Senate watching New Caledonia, says Bel

2:53 pm on 14 November 2013

The president of the French Senate, Jean-Pierre Bel, has told New Caledonia's Congress that the Senate is watching the territory's development very closely.

Mr Bel, who is the first Senate president to visit Noumea, says France will remain impartial as next year the territory gears up to the last phase of the Noumea Accord, which calls for an independence referendum by 2018.

There have been calls for putting off a straight forward vote for or against independence as outlined in the accord.

Mr Bel says France remains open to any new institutional approach which is supported by all parties concerned and which would require a change of the French constitution.

Support for the strict application of the Noumea Accord has varied, with anti-independence parties veering away from the referendum idea and instead opting for a new accord.

Mr Bel's three-day tour comes within months of visits by the French prime minister, the overseas territories minister and the head of the law commission of the French National Assembly.