Independence supporter voted in as president of New Caledonia

The bay of Numbo, in Ducos, and the village of the Communards, facing Nou Island and the central camp facilities, in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia on May 21, 2021.

Noumea, France | A New Caledonia independence supporter was voted in as president of the French Pacific territory on Thursday, just months ahead of a third and final referendum on a breakaway. 

Louis Mapou, 62, said it was "an honour and a privilege" to take up the position. 

It is the first time a supporter of independence has held the role since the "Noumea Accord", a decolonisation plan signed in 1998 that granted the archipelago autonomy. 

That agreement ended a deadly conflict between the mostly pro-independence indigenous Kanak population and the descendants of European settlers. 

It also allowed for up to three independence votes by 2022 if requested by at least a third of the local legislature, the third of which will be held in December. 

The first, in 2018, saw 57 percent vote to remain part of France, but a second in October 2020 saw that share decrease to 53 percent.  

Pro-independence leaders this year gained a majority in the New Caledonian government for the first time since the Noumea Accord. 

But five months of political deadlock followed, as the two pro-independence parties on the executive battled over who should take the role of president.

French overseas territories minister Sebastien Lecornu congratulated Mapou and invited him to meet soon to discuss, among other things, the "structural difficulties of New Caledonian public finances" -- a reference to the territory's budgetary crisis.  

New Caledonia has been under French control for almost 170 years, during which it served as a penal colony for criminals and political prisoners, an Allied military base in World War II and a source of commodities, notably nickel.

France, which is more than 16,000 kilometres (10,000 miles) away from the territory, subsidises New Caledonia with around 1.5 billion euros ($1.75 billion) every year, the equivalent of more than 15 percent of the territory's gross domestic product.

© Agence France-Presse

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