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New Caledonia Travel Guide

The Matignon Accords

The policies of Chirac and Pons had propelled New Caledonia to the brink of civil war, costing another 25 people their lives. Yet the Kanak blood spilled at Ouvéa didn't rally sufficient support for Chirac to win the French presidency, and Mitterrand was reelected. A month later, parliamentary elections were held in France, and the Socialists returned to power.

The renewed violence had chastened everyone, so on June 26, 1988, the FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou and the RPCR chief Jacques Lafleur met in Paris under the auspices of Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard to work out a compromise. The settlers were worried the Socialists would be sympathetic to independence, while the Kanaks wanted back the economic powers they had enjoyed briefly under the Fabius plan.

Under the peace accords signed at the Matignon Palace in Paris by the French government, the RPCR, and the FLNKS on August 20, 1988, all sides agreed to direct rule from Paris for one year, followed by a federal system for nine. The Pons Statute was to be scrapped and the territory divided into three self-governing provinces, North Province, South Province, and Loyalty Islands Province, with provincial elections in June 1989. There was to be balanced economic development based on decentralization and new training programs for Kanaks. Tens of millions of dollars in development funds were to be channeled into the Kanak regions.

Statue of Jean-Marie Tjibaou
A statue of Jean-Marie Tjibaou overlooks the Cultural Center.

A new referendum on independence was to take place in 1998, with voting restricted to those eligible to vote in 1988 and their children of voting age. Amnesty was to be granted to 200 Kanak militants and to settlers charged with crimes against Kanaks. What the Matignon Accords didn't do was significantly increase territorial autonomy, nor did they guarantee a more equal division of the territory's wealth, most of which remained concentrated in the settler-controlled South Province. The Kanak leaders who signed the accords failed to consult their followers to seek approval or to demand an inquiry into the Ouvéa Massacre.

On November 6, 1988, a referendum was held in France, and 80 percent of voters approved the plan. This meant that the agreement couldn't be altered by a simple act of parliament should the government in Paris change—a major Kanak demand. Yet FLNKS hardliners strongly opposed the accords as a sellout that didn't guarantee independence. They argued that the FLNKS should refuse to cooperate with continued colonial rule and mount a last-ditch, all-or-nothing independence struggle. The split deepened as several FLNKS factions refused to participate in the June 1989 elections. The Ouvéa people felt especially betrayed.

Then, on May 4, 1989, at a commemorative service on Ouvéa for the massacre victims, the final act: The moderate FLNKS leaders Jean-Marie Tjibaou, 53, and Yeiwéné Yeiwéné, 44, were shot and killed at point-blank range by Djoubelly Wea, whose father had died from electric shocks inflicted by French troops on Ouvéa a year before. Wea himself, who acted alone, was immediately slain by Tjibaou's bodyguard.

These events served to freeze the Matignon Accords—which Tjibaou had considered a transitional arrangement—into a permanent solution, the foundation for New Caledonia's current colonial regime. Since 1989, the French government has carefully fostered the cult of Jean-Marie Tjibaou to legitimize this system. Most subsequent Kanak leaders had been weak figures, easily bought off and manipulated by the French. The lost struggle for independence of the 1980s is now euphemistically referred to as les événements (the events).

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