Wednesday, December 13, 2017

1) Asian Church group raises concerns after Papua visit

2) The debate over clans’ land in Bupul village as forest become an oil palm plantation

3) Independence movement prepares for referendum (kanaky-(New Caledonia)
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https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/346143/asian-church-group-raises-concerns-after-papua-visit

1) Asian Church group raises concerns after Papua visit

9:32 pm on 13 December 2017 

A group from the Christian Conference of Asia has reported about a pattern of severe human rights violations in Indonesia's Papua region, known as West Papua.
After a visit to Indonesian-controlled West Papua, the Conference said the indigenous Papuans face "grave human rights violations and repression....in their own home land".
Last week's visit was part of the organisation's support for churches and people in vulnerable situations.
The Conference said its three-member pastoral solidarity team spent four days in West Papua with an "intensive" programme of visits and meetings.
It says West Papuans told the delegation about on-going repression and systematic human rights violations, including the passing of laws that suppress freedom of speech and freedom of association.
According to the Conference, people in West Papua spoke of the growing concern at the impunity for human rights abuses enjoyed by the police and the military.
The Christian Conference of Asia includes 17 national councils and more than 100 churches in 21 countries.


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https://awasmifee.potager.org/?p=1585

2) The debate over clans’ land in Bupul village as forest become an oil palm plantation

Land conflict for oil palm is still an issue in Merauke

Two children ran towards the forest. As they got closer to the trees that at first seemed to be a thick forest, a broad carpet of felled trees became visible.
The two could witness exactly how the green bulldozers were working to clear away the trees. From afar, the sound of falling trees could be heard clearly. Several times they pointed out the heavy machinery that was working off in the distance.
“That’s a beko – a beko is what we call a ‘dozer. Every day the bekos are working to clear our forest”, Agustinus shouted
Agustinus is slender, his friend Yupens is more sturdy. They are both in the 5th class of YPPK Santo Petrus primary school in Bupul village, Elikobel, Merauke Regency, Papua.
“Bro, this forest is where we play with bows and arrows, or spears, and go to look for birds. At the furthest point over there, there’s a river. After playing in the forest, we normally go swimming in the river.”, added Yupens
“Our teacher said that later if there’s an oil palm plantation and the waste goes into the river, we won’t be able to swim there any more.”
***
Yupens and Agustinus’ village, Bupul, isn’t far from the Trans-Papua road which connects Merauke Regency with Boven Digoel. Bupul can be reached from Merauke in about 3-4 hours. There are many military checkpoints along the road because the area is close to the Papua New Guinea border.
The majority of indigenous people in Bupul belong to the Yei ethnic group, which some people describe as a sub-ethnic group of the Marind. In general they are dependant on the forest to meet their needs.
The forest Agustinus and Yupens were pointing out is the ancestral forest of the Wonijai clan. The company has already paid the clan for this land, obtaining their consent both through polite persuasion and through use of state security forces. The company plied the people with promises of “a better life” until some of the local people agreed to release their ancestral land. The others, who opposed it, felt that these promises were motivated by nothing other than the company’s desire to take control of the Wonijai land.
***
One evening in 2015, a group of people paid a visit to Simon Wonijai’s house. They were company representatives. One of them was well built, seemingly a member of the police or military. They were trying to find Simon, but the 68 year old man was nowhere to be found.
“I avoided them on purpose”, said Simon Wonijai, when I met him at his home in mid-October. “They wanted to ask for my signature [on land release documents] as I’m the clan leader, and so they brought the plain-clothes policeman that night.”
The company that Simon was talking about is PT Agrinusa Persada Mulia, referred to locally as PT APM. This company is under the Agro Mandiri Semesta Group, otherwise known as Ganda Group. The owner is Ganda, brother of the founder of Wilmar International, Martua Sitorus [awasMIFEE note: in 2017, this group has started referring to itself as Gama Plantation, Gama being a combination of GA-nda and MA-rtua].
PT Agrinusa Persada Mulia was given its initial permit on 13th January 2010, based on the Merauke Bupati’s decree 4/2010. That permit covered 40,000 hectares in Muting sub-district.
Since 2013, the company has started to expand onto company land in Elikobel sub-district. The way it does this is to produce a land release contract and then give the local community compensation, which is referred to as “tali asih” [a vague term which suggests a friendly payment without commitment]
“In the end I was forced to sign the land release document”, Simon admitted.
He spoke about the various techniques the company has used to persuade people into giving up their land. He said that these techniques caused divisions within clans. “The person who sold the land and engaged in negotiations with the company was Ruben Wonigai,” said Simon. Ruben is still part of Simon’s family.
“The company managed to persuade Ruben, and then his task was to win over other clan members, including myself, to sign the land release contract”
Although he has already signed the document, Simon claims that he has still never received a copy of the contract. The company keeps hold of it. He cannot even say for sure the area of the land he has released.
“It’s about 900 hectares,”he estimates.
The company gives them a low price for their land, only around 300,000 Rupiah per hectare. The total amount the company paid for the Wonijai clan’s land was around 600 million Rupiah. From that amount, Simon claims that the share he received was 50 million Rupiah.
“When you hear it, 600 million sounds like a lot. But it has to be shared amongst the whole family, with different amounts. I got 50 million, and this had to be shared out further between my children and grandchildren. Actually, it isn’t fair.”
***
The process of how the company acquired land in Bupul appears never to have been transparent, always murky, and in the end this has made the community nervous.
A smartphone video filmed in October 2016 shows how an example letter appeared bearing the name of Simon Wonijai, asking PT APM for a loan.
This loan was supposedly to pay for the medical care of someone who was ill and the costs of care during childbirth. It mentioned that the payment would be taken off from the company’s tali asih payment. The strange thing was that Simon Wonijai’s signature wasn’t on the letter.
Because of this letter, in early 2017, Simon got in trouble with the state. He was picked up by two police officers while attending church in Bupul village. He was asked to sign the letter, but he managed to resist and didn’t sign.
Father Anselmus Amo, the director of SKP KAME Merauke – the humanitarian arm of the Merauke Catholic Diocese – talked about the problem. He had witnessed how the police had approached Simon while he was in the church.
“If [as they say] there was a letter from Simon to borrow money to be used for the costs of medical treatment and giving birth, we should go back and question this. I am convinced that Simon did not want to sign, and would only have signed if he was trapped or forced into it. The company uses various techniques, even making use of police to get signatures”, Amo said
He believes that the company has used many different strategies to get the land, including creating conflicts between clans and individuals. He gave the example of the Mandaljai clan, only one person signed away the land rights without the knowledge of the clan chief.
“Rafael Mandaljai, the clan chief, did not agree to release the land. However the company based the land release on the signature of his brother, Thomas Mandaljai. In the end Thomas fled to Papua New Guinea because he has released the land to PT APM”, Amo explained.
He also said that the company did not pay attention to places of high conservation value on the ancestral land. The company’s land clearing was also contaminating local rivers.
On another occasion, Kanisius Wonijai, son of Simon Wonijai, told of the company’s attempts to cajole them with enticing promises. This included scholarships for the clan’s children, building places of worship, building a school and help with medical care for the sick. The company also promised an outboard motor which people could use on the river.
“But since they first arrived in 2013, not a single one of these promises has been carried out, up until now.”
Kanisius has now taken on the role of Bupul village secretary. He is 40 years old. He was previously one of the members of the Wonijai clan that was most vocal in his opposition to releasing ancestral land to the company.
In 2015, he protested to the company. The issue was that people felt the company had cleared land outside the agreed area. He protested by placing a wooden pole to mark their ancestral land which had been cleared by the company and converted into plantation blocks. As a result he was confronted by company employees.
“If anyone dares to clear this land, I will kill him!” screamed Kanisius, repeating his words at the time.
Out of fear, company employees were not brave enough to work on this land, which in practice meant no work took place there for one year.
“But the company came back again [this time] with intel and the military. They showed the land release document which had been signed by Ruben Wonijai. Feeling weak, there was nothing more I could do,” he said slowly.
I tried to meet with Ruben Wonijai, who Simon and Kanisius had talked about, but he was nowhere to be found. It seemed as if he had already left the village. Ruben disappeared because he had problems with several people as a result of having sold the land.
“Ruben fled with his wife. He’s got lots of problems. Not only with us, because he took matters into his own hands and sold land to the company, but also with other outsiders,” said Kanisius.
Kanisus hopes that their attempts at resistance will be supported by other clans. But he knows the chances are slim. Some people are scared because the company often shows up with police or military. The people are intimidated, or otherwise they have been fooled by the company’s persuasiveness.
“Actually, not all the clan members were in agreement that we should sell our land. Unfortunately the letter we signed was never given to us. The company said it would make photocopies and share them with us, but this has still not happened,” said Markus Dambujai, another local resident. He claims that he is one of the people for whom the land release issue is still not fully settled.
“The company keeps coming and trying to convince us, until now. Hopefully our clan won’t succumb to the temptation of the company’s attempts to talk us round,” said Ricardus Mekiuw, 40 years old, another resident
***
Back on 28th February 2013, when the company was making its first approaches in Bupul village, according to information on awasMIFEE, PT APM gave ‘tali asih’ money to villagers. This meeting took place at the Elikobel sub-district office, located on the Trans-Papua road, and was witnessed by the District Military Commander at the time, Lt. Col. INF Dedi Hardono, commander of infantry battalion 726/TML Major Setyono, First Assistant to the Merauke District Secretary Recky Teurupin, PT APM’s boss Gazali Arief, heads of local government agencies and community leaders.
It was said at the time that money was paid as cash to three clans, Keyijai, Wonijai and Kewamijai. Kewamijai got 10,174,500 Rupiah, Wonijai 53,620,000 Rupiah and Keyijai 620.921.000.
“As far as I know, the clans that have sold their ancestral land to PT APM are Keyijai, Wonijai, Kewamijai and Mandaljai. Then there are other clans that have sold their land to a different company, PT Internusa Jaya Sejahtera – Dambujai, Mjai and some small sub-clans of Dambujai,” said Pasificus Anggojai, the head of Bupul village.
Apart from PT APM, according to Yayasan Pusaka’s reports, PT IJS was given a location permit to plant 18587 hectares of oil palm in Merauke in 2013. The parent company is the Indonusa Agromulia Group which owns plantations in Sumatra. This company also has obtained permits for oil palm concessions in South Sorong regency.
Although the money seems to be a lot to go around, Pasificus Anggojai says that it won’t last for ever. There are more disadvantages than benefits. Offers to release land in exchange for money have caused divisions within clans. Clan members who have already been enticed by the company’s offers then become “public relations”, which means their duty is to persuade others to sell their land.
He says that in most transactions, the company has come to meet directly with the customary rights holders, and then set out its promises. One of these was that it would give work to local residents, but in practice that has been limited to unskilled labour.
“And then the money people got from selling their land to the company is shared out and is all gone very quickly. Now there are people who regret releasing their land.”
***
I also tried to get confirmation of what happened from the company side. They gave very different answers. Mulyadi, a representative of PT APM, explained that the community’s land was not being bought, but instead what could be described as being borrowed, or given compensation for plants growing there.
This means that the community’s land was being leased for a 30 year period in accordance with the duration of the company’s cultivation rights title (HGU), and 20% of the land would be for the community anyway as it would become smallholder estates.
“The community also signed in front of a notary and local government representatives”, said Mulyadi. “You can check for yourself with the public relations guys in the plantation who are in contact with the community”.
The “public relations guys” Mulyadi referred to are people from the village that have already agreed to the company’s plans, including customary landowners and their children. He also said that if there were any accusations that the company had sown divisions in the community, they weren’t true.
“I was responsible for public relations previously, but now I work on permits for the company. Our principle is to only clear land if it is in accordance with the Regency’s spatial plan and is Clean and Clear. This means we only will clear land if the community agrees to this,” he said.
Mulyadi said that actually PT APM had paid more for land than other plantation companies in the area, such as Korindo, IJS or Bio Inti Agrindo (a subsidiary of the Posco Daewoo group).
“We have a standard price. Our land is the highest, 500,000 Rupiah per hectare. Others are still only paying 287,000 or 400,000 per hectare”, Mulyadi said.
Regarding Corporate Social Responsibility, he says it has to be done in stages “It’s not possible that a company that has only been operating for only one year can put everything in place straight away. We do things in stages. We’ve started by helping with educational scholarships, to high school for example. There’s also lots of aid we’ve given.”
Father Amo said the opposite. Regarding the company’s claims to provide CSR aid, he said that actually lots of children drop out of school, especially in the lands of the clans which have already become oil palm, such as the Keyijai, Kewamijai, Wonijai and Mandaljai clans’ land.
“I just got back from Bupul village where I found out that lots of children have dropped out of school and are just getting drunk instead”, said Amo. He said the company should publish the data of how many children’s education it had supported through scholarships.
The head of the Environmental Management Agency for Papua Province, Noak Kapisa, when asked for confirmation, said that all the information circulating needed to be checked out on the ground, including whether or not the company was carrying out its environmental responsibilities as mandated.
“Also, if the community wants to complain, they should tell us their complaints. I’ve never received a single complaint”, said Noak
According to him, there are no problems with the company’s permits, because they followed a tight process which also involved the community. He also said that the company makes periodic reports about developments on the ground.
“If the community feels it has been disadvantaged, it should make a written report, including the accusation that the company is considered to have sown division in the community.”
***
Yupens is one of the smarter kids in his class – recently he took second place. He understands that a significant change has taken place in his village, one that will affect his generation. He is a living witness to the moment the forest landscape was turned into a monoculture plantation.
Making jokes as they throw dead branches at one another, Yupens and Agustinus also run around, as if welcoming the fate already sketched out that will determine their future. Whether they like it or not, they and friends their age in the village will have to live alongside that notorious agribusiness commodity:oil palm.
Author: Christopel Paino
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Kanaky (New Caledonia) 


3) Independence movement prepares for referendum
6:14 pm GMT+12, 12/12/2017, New Caledonia


By Nic Maclellan
 
Remembrance Day, November 11. French soldiers, sailors and police stand in ranks near Noumea’s war memorial at Bir Hakiem, to remember the fallen.
 
Across town, at Ko We Kara, members of the Union Calédonienne Party recall those who have fallen in the struggle for independence, as they gather at the 48th UC congress. Founded in 1953, the oldest political party in New Caledonia took up the call for independence in 1977.
 
These competing ceremonies open a crucial year for New Caledonia, just one year away from a referendum on self-determination.
 
Under the Noumea Accord, New Caledonia must hold the referendum before the end of 2018, with the vote likely next November. With newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron scheduled to make his first visit to the French Pacific dependency next May, the coming year will see increased political mobilisation and debate.
 
But more than 19 years after the Noumea Accord was signed, the French State has failed to resolve disputes over who is eligible to vote in this crucial decision on the country’s political status.
 
In early November, political leaders travelled to Paris, to try to forge a compromise on this longstanding dispute. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe hosted the Committee of Signatories, an annual meeting of the original signatories to the 1998 Noumea Accord, together with New Caledonia’s elected representatives to the French parliament and leaders of the major political parties represented in New Caledonia’s Congress.
 
The Paris meeting made crucial decisions about the electoral roll for the referendum, but there’s still a long way to go. With Prime Minister Philippe due to visit Noumea in early December for further discussions, the independence movement is starting to mobilise its forces.
 
Last month, the four political parties that make up the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS) each held their own congresses. Leaders reported back on the outcomes of the Committee of Signatories, and began to mobilise their members for the year ahead.
 
The Party of Kanak Liberation (Palika), led by Paul Neaoutyine, gathered at Arama in the north of the main island, while Victor Tutugoro’s  Union Progressiste Mélanesienne (UPM) met on Ouvea in the outlying Loyalty Islands. The Rassemblement Démocratique Océanienne (RDO) – which links Wallisian and Tahitian supporters of independence – gathered in Dumbea. The largest congress was for Union Calédonienne (UC), the “older brother” of the independence movement, which met on the outskirts of Noumea from 11-13 November.
 
Despite improved inter-community relations under the Noumea Accord, the FLNKS still draws most of its support from the indigenous Kanak community. The independence movement has not made a strategic breakthrough to rally mass support from the European community or the large Wallisian and Tahitian population in Noumea and surrounding towns.
 
Relations between different pro-independence parties have been stretched in recent years, as they debate the best pathway to independence and the type of economy and society to be forged in a sovereign nation. As well as the four-member FLNKS, the smaller Rassemblement des indépendantistes et nationalistes (RIN) includes more radical parties such as Dynamique Unitaire Sud (DUS) and the union-backed Parti Travailliste (PT).
 
Within the FLNKS, long-standing debates between UC and Palika have led to sharp contests during electoral campaigns and differing tactics within government. In New Caledonia’s national Congress, pro-independence representatives sit in two separate parliamentary groups. The “Union Nationale pour l’Independance” (UNI) links Palika, UPM and RDO, while the “UC FLNKS and Nationalists” group incorporates elected members from UC, PT, and DUS.
 
Despite these differences, the looming referendum on self-determination is driving these groups together. In a symbol of unity that has not been seen for some time, the closing session of the UC Congress was attended by delegations from all these political parties, as well as representatives from the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), the USTKE trade union confederation and the Eglise Protestante de Kanaky-Nouvelle-Caledonie (EPKNC), the largest Protestant church in the country.
 
Re-elected as president of Union Calédonienne, Daniel Goa welcomed the diverse leaders from “the independence family” to the UC congress. Speaking to Islands Business, Goa said: “All the parties represented at the congress are on the same path. The timeline is very short and there’s a lot of work to be done.”
 
Committee of Signatories

 
The Committee of Signatories was another welcome sign of convergence. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe won praise from most participants for his steady handling and attempts to find compromises between competing interests.
 
A central political agreement was to register thousands of people on New Caledonia’s general electoral roll – a legal prerequisite to participation in the 2018 referendum on self-determination. FLNKS activists have long complained that up to 25,000 Kanaks are not registered on the general roll, seen as a failure of the French State, given the responsibility of the administering power to ensure that the colonised people should vote in a decolonisation referendum.
 
In an interview, French High Commissioner to New Caledonia Thierry Lataste acknowledged: “We’ve been talking about the electoral roll for thirty years, but differences and disputes have continued to the present day. For two years, it’s been clear that there are many people – both Kanak and also other people with common civil status – that are not registered to vote on the general electoral roll, and therefore on the list for the consultation in 2018.
 
“The challenge has been to find these people, identify them, find their address and write to encourage them to register. The High Commission, which is neutral in this matter, must write to say you should register.”
 
Last year, the French High Commission wrote to nearly 9,000 people encouraging them to register, with a 25 per cent success rate in response. However members of RIN have argued that Kanaks of voting age should be registered automatically, without preconditions, as the “concerned population” under international principles of decolonisation.
 
The Committee of Signatories agreed on a process to register at least 7,000 Kanaks holding customary civil status under French law, together with another 3,900 people with common civil status (these are people with “material and moral interests” in the country who can also prove three years of residence based on evidence from the CAFAT social security fund). This latter group could include both Kanaks and non-indigenous voters, but French laws on privacy and data collection mean the French State has refused to reveal who is on this list.
 
Sylvain Pabouty of the DUS party said: “Every time the French State addresses this issue, they find more Kanaks who are not properly registered. The Committee of Signatories agreed that there are another 7,000. But there are 19,646 people with customary civil status in New Caledonia, so what about the other 12,000? It’s important to note that the figure of 7,000 Kanaks is just provisional, and needs further investigation – yet all registration must be completed by the end of the year.”
 
This call for automatic registration of all Kanaks of voting age has been opposed by anti-independence leaders, who question the numbers on unregistered voters and argue that non-indigenous New Caledonians should also be given automatic registration.
 
High Commissioner Lataste notes: “People in the non-independence camp argue that it’s not fair that for some this process is automatic, while for others it involves compiling a dossier of documents, searching for information from their parents etc.”
 
Lataste told Islands Business that despite agreement at the Committee of Signatories, the registration process needs further work. The political compromise must be legalised by changes to the 1999 French legislation that codified the Noumea Accord into law.
 
“Union Calédonienne believes this can all be resolved without modifying the organic law – the text which frames the elections,” Lataste said. “In contrast, the view of the French government and the other political parties is that we can’t introduce a change which is unknown in France without modifying the organic law.”
 
Beyond the issue of the electoral roll, the Committee of Signatories debated a number of outstanding issues, still unresolved in the final year of the 20-year transition established by the Noumea Accord in 1998. There will be further discussions in the New Year on the transfer of the remaining “Article 27” powers from Paris to Noumea (granting authority over higher education, TV and radio, and local municipal councils). Leaders also established a working group for the final transfer of ADRAF, the organisation responsible for land reform.
 
Mobilising voters
 
Once people are registered, political parties face the challenge of mobilising their supporters. The Kanak population is a minority in its own country, and current polling suggests a majority of registered electors will not vote for independence in November 2018.  
 
Beyond this, voting is not compulsory in New Caledonia for elections or the looming referendum. The country has a high abstention rate, and across the political spectrum, there are many who express a general disinterest in politics. For the FLNKS, a key challenge would be to mobilise support amongst younger voters who were not born during the troubled decade in the 1980s, and were not part of the renaissance of Kanak nationalism and widespread political and cultural mobilisation.
 
Over the last five months, an FLNKS team has been touring the country to present a draft framework for “a sovereign Kanaky-New Caledonia.” More than twenty community consultations have been held to outline proposed changes of government, society and economy after the 2018 referendum.
 
At some community meetings, there have been sharp questions about the lack of detail in the draft, which will be finalised this month. Some people fear the loss of French subsidies for pensions, health or welfare benefits. In response, FLNKS members have started to put out details of the economic options to replace French funding, but there’s a lot of work needed to mobilise wavering independence supporters in the Kanak community.
 
UC’s Daniel Goa noted: “Currently, about 40 per cent of Kanaks – or at least 30 per cent – don’t vote. So we must work at the level of the family, to provide information so these people can be found. We will find a way to reach out to each tribe, to each extended family, to contact people who are not registered to vote or who abstain. Our objective for 2018 is to mobilise the majority of electors who might participate.”  
 
Finding a way forward

 
Members of the UC-FLNKS and Nationalists group in the Congress are calling for full and sovereign independence.  The re-election of Daniel Goa as president of the largest independence party has re-affirmed the path that saw a UC boycott of the French legislative elections last June.
 
Palika spokesperson Charles Washetine also reaffirmed that “the Noumea Accord is a decolonisation process which must lead to the emergence of a new country called Kanaky-Nouvelle-Calédonie.”
 
However, Palika has called for dialogue in coming months over the concept of “pleine souveraineté avec partenariat” (full sovereignty in partnership with France). This would see Kanaky-New Caledonia as a member of the United Nations, with its own passport and sovereign status, but with ongoing relations with France. Palika leaders present this concept as a bridge between the independence movement and those settlers fearful of the model of “free association” promoted by the French State in the 1980s.
 
The Committee of Signatories established a working group to finalise the wording of the referendum question. Daniel Goa stressed that UC supports the three core elements outlined in the Noumea Accord: transfer to New Caledonia of the remaining sovereign powers (such as defence, foreign affairs, currency and justice), achieving a status of full international responsibility and the transition from citizenship to nationality.
 
“We’re satisfied with the question set out in the Noumea Accord,” said Goa. “We won’t budge from that. Every time we’ve revisited deals that have been struck, every time we’ve had to make concessions.”
 
Disunity on the Right
 

Even as the FLNKS works to unify its forces, there is chaos in the other camp. Anti-independence parties maintain a dominant position in New Caledonia’s political institutions, but are deeply divided as the country moves towards the decision on its political status.
 
Four anti-independence parties make up the so-called “Platform of Loyalists”: Calédonie Ensemble (CE), Rassemblement Les Républicains (LR), Mouvement pour la Calédonie (MPC) and Tous calédoniens (TC). But unity with other anti-independence forces is broken. A new extreme-right grouping, Les Républicains calédoniens (LRC), brings together leaders such as Sonia Backes, Philippe Blaise and Isabelle Lafleur.
 
The LRC leaders are angry at the CE and LR, which have tried to promote dialogue with the independence movement. They’re even angrier over the result of the bitter battle for New Caledonia’s seats in the French parliament, which saw CE’s Philippe Gomes and Philippe Dunoyer win both seats in the National Assembly last June and LR’s Pierre Frogier returned to the Senate in October.  
 
LRC leader Sonia Backes says: “We want to renew the political class, in contrast to the Platform, which today reunites all the old guard. We certainly have support from some veterans like Simon Loueckhote, Harold Martin or Didier Leroux, but they all want to push forward a new generation and won’t be standing for seats in the future.”
 
This rift amongst anti-independence politicians has – once again – paralysed the Government of New Caledonia. Dunoyer’s victory in the June National Assembly elections forced a spill of all government positions, and 11 new members were chosen by Congress on 31 August. But the members of the government have again been unable to choose a President from their ranks, even though anti-independence forces have a 6/5 majority in the government. The sole representative of the LRC in the government has refused to join the five members of the Platform of Loyalists to re-elect President Philippe Germain. With independence members abstaining, Germain cannot gain an absolute majority.
 
Germain has continued as caretaker President, attending the Forum leaders meeting in Apia and the Committee of Signatories in Paris, but without the authority to sign new commitments. With the government in caretaker mode, the 2018 national budget is yet to pass through Congress, stalling crucial initiatives in a politically sensitive period.  
 
High Commissioner Lataste has tried three times to break the deadlock, but as IB goes to press, LRC is holding firm. The five pro-independence members have said that it’s up to the parties of the Right to decide on their own candidate, leaving the Vice Presidency to the independence forces. Daniel Goa notes wryly: “Every time it’s the same – they fall out, then they want us to sort out their foolishness.”
 
 International monitoring

 
A delegation from the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) secretariat travelled to Noumea last month to meet with FLNKS leaders and discuss the path towards the referendum. MSG’s Ilan Kiloe told the UC Congress: “Our presence here today demonstrates our commitment to assist you, the Union Calédonienne party as well as the FLNKS, as a member of the MSG.”
 
Daniel Goa noted that the FLNKS is still looking for international support.
 
“The work that we’ve begun to clarify the voting list is not yet finished,” he said. “So between now and the end of 2018, we’ll be asking international institutions to call on the French State to meet its commitments. We’re looking internationally for this support, to the United Nations, to the Melanesian Spearhead Group and to the countries of the Pacific region.”
 
High Commissioner Lataste confirmed that France was open to international scrutiny of the self-determination vote in 2018.
 
“The French State is open to international monitoring of the process, to describe, to monitor, to freely give their opinion on the manner which the referendum will be organised,” he said. “On the part of the State, it’s not complicated. This is not necessarily the case for the local political parties, especially on the Right, who have long resisted international overview and for whom the words ‘United Nations’ raise a certain fear. However the Committee of Signatories agreed that a UN mission would continue to monitor the electoral registration process next year, as they have done in 2016 and 2017.”
 
The UN Special Committee on Decolonisation has asked to send a mission to New Caledonia. In Paris last month, political leaders agreed a UN mission could visit in early 2018. All political leaders also agreed there could also be UN observers for the vote itself.   
 
High Commissioner Lataste was less certain about the involvement of the Pacific Islands Forum, which didn’t mention the looming referendum in its 2017 communique: “Curiously, I though the issue would be raised by the Forum in September when they met in Apia, but Philippe Germain told me that this wasn’t raised at all at the highest political level in the leaders retreat. The only person raising Forum involvement is the Secretary General Meg Taylor, but does she have the authority herself to involve the Forum without the agreement of the heads of state and governments themselves? This poses a question.”.

SOURCE: ISLANDS BUSINESS/PACNEWS
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