Sarkozy says will respect Caledonian referendum

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Sunday he would respect the choice of New Caledonian voters is they decided to break away from France, as he wrapped up a trip to the South Pacific archipelago.

Under an agreement signed in 1998, New Caledonia is to hold a referendum between 2014 and 2018 on whether or not to become fully independent.

"Everything makes me believe that New Caledonia wants to remain part of France," Sarkozy said on the third and final day of his trip. "But if the Caledonians make another choice, I will respect it."

On the first day of his trip on Friday, Sarkozy said both sides of the independence debate needed to make compromises.

The 1998 deal, known as the Noumea Accord, followed a period of unrest in the 1980s sparked by tensions between the pro-independence camp and those in favour of remaining part of France.

The island group, which lies around 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) east of Australia, is deeply divided between the indigenous Kanaks, who make up about 44 percent of the population, and ethnic Europeans, who make up 34 percent.

It has seen its wealth grow in recent years thanks to its nickel deposits, which are thought to account for around 25 percent of global reserves.

© 2011 AFP

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