New Caledonia vote stirs painful memories – and a hopeful future

David Robie, who reported from New Caledonia during the 1980s for Islands Business magazine, New Zealand Times and other media, returned to the French Pacific possession to observe last weekend’s historic referendum. He was also on board the Rainbow Warrior, the Greenpeace environmental ship that was bombed by French secret agents during the height of “les évènements”. He reflects in the first of two articles.

By David Robie in Nouméa

Thirty four years ago, on 18 November 1984, Kanak pro-independence leader Éloi Machoro split a ballot box in half at Canala on the East Coast of New Caledonia. His supporters burned ballot papers in the opening salvo in an “active boycott” of French territorial elections.

I was there bearing witness and photos of the protest became symbolic around the world for the Kanak claim to self-determination and sovereignty.

The following month, on 5 December 1984, 10 unarmed Kanak activists were brutally murdered by mixed-race settlers in an ambush as they drove home through the forest from Hienghène to the village of Tiendanite. I was at the funeral, one of the most harrowing moments of my life.

NEW CALEDONIA INDEPENDENCE VOTE: WHAT NEXT?

The following year I was on board the Rainbow Warrior for more than 10 weeks on a humanitarian voyage to the Marshall Islands to help Rongelap islanders suffering from the legacy of nuclear testing. The ship was bombed by French secret agents on 10 July 1985, killing Portuguese-Dutch photojournalist Fernando Pereira.

As clashes and tension worsened over the next three years in New Caledonia, a group of young Kanak militants led by student activist Alphonse Dianou on 22 April 1988 nervously killed four gendarmes while taking 27 others hostage.

Kanak “security” leader during the 1984 election active boycott. His action with the axe in splitting open a ballot box at Canala led to a series of events culminating in his assassination by French security forces in 1985. Image: David Robie/PMC

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A cave siege followed with security forces storming the hideout on 5 May 1988 and killing all the hostage-takers in what is known as the Ouvéa massacre.

The peace negotiations after the Ouvéa tragedy led to the Matignon Accord signed by anti-independence leader Jacques Lafleur and Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) president Jean-Marie Tjibaou and the initial framework that led to the historic independence referendum in New Caledonia last Sunday.

January 1985 cover of Islands Business magazine (Fiji) after the Hienghène massacre. Cover images: David Robie/PMC

However, cultural philosopher and visionary Tjibaou and his deputy Yeiwene Yeiwene were in turn assassinated by Djubelly Wea in a further tragedy on 4 May 1989. I had shared a hotel room with the assassin at a conference in Manila just a few months earlier.

Slight unease
Returning to New Caledonia for this historic vote virtually three decades later, my earlier experiences – outlined in two of my books Blood On Their Banner (1989) and Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face (2014) – gave me slight feelings of unease.

There has been 3o years of relative peace and social justice has definitely improved during that time – even if nowhere enough for the indigenous Kanak people – and there has been significant progress in terms of self-government and economic development.

But what would happen if this vote proved negative and growing aspirations of the Kanaks for a new nation of Kanaky New Caledonia were again denied. On the face of it, it seemed impossible for independence to triumph given the demographic realities.

The rioting and the barricades on the main road near the tribal area of St Louis on the outskirts of Nouméa on Monday were a taste of what might have been with frustrated youth if it had spiralled out of control.


SBS Pacific reporter Stefan Armbruster (left) and SBS French executive producer Christophe Mallet preparing a live news feed from the Noumea’s Hotel de Ville. Video: David Robie/PMC

While some local journalists on the ground were cautious, saying the referendum was hard to call with probably a 50/50 or 60/40 outcome, some anti-independence leaders had been brazenly declaring the election a done deal with a 70/30 outcome.

The conservative politicians have ended up with egg on their face. The pro-independence FLNKS and its ally Palika-UNI did a superb job in mobilising their supporters, especially the young.

Final results confounded the pundits. The “no” slipped to a 56.4 percent vote while the “yes” vote wrested a credible 43.6 percent share of the vote with a record 80.6 percent turnout.

Interesting statistics
Closer analysis of the figures produced some interesting statistics.

How they voted: Map showing the results and the breakdown of “yes” (shades of red) and “no” (blue) votes in the 35 communes of New Caledonia. Source: French High Commission/Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes

The cleavage of the territory into the “white” Southern” province and Nouméa, and the “brown” Northern and Loyalties provinces remained (see Part 2 tomorrow) but the stark divisions of the past appeared to be blurring in some places, reflecting an emerging common ground across ethnic divides.

The white South with the bulk of the European population and the core of the territory’s wealth polled a 73.7 percent no vote with 26.29 percent yes vote, a growing pro-independence movement.

Kanak voters in the “white” stronghold of Noumea vote at the Hotel de Ville – the city hall – polling centre. Image: David Robie/PMC

In contrast, in the North province where the FLNKS-ruled local government has consolidated its position. There was a 75.83 percent yes vote and 24.17 percent against.

In the Loyalty Islands, the vote was 82.18 percent yes and 17.82 percent no.

In Canala, where Machoro smashed open the ballot box, the vote was 94.27 percent yes and in Hienghène where the Tjibaou massacre happened (the leader lost two of his brothers in that ambush before he was assassinated) the yes was marginally higher at 94.75 percent.

However, the highest yes vote was in the tiny Belep islands off the northern tip of Grande Terre island. With barely 920 eligible voters, there was almost a 95 percent yes vote.


New Caledonian Independence Referendum Commission President Francis Lamy presenting the official result of the vote to media. Video: David Robie/PMC

‘Liberty, fraternity for all’
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the vote by New Caledonians to remain French, pledging that the republic would ensure ‘liberty, equality and fraternity” for all.

“The only loser is the temptation of contempt, division, violence and fear; the only winner is the process of peace and the spirit of dialogue,” Macron said in a state television address from Paris.


French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe arriving at the High Commission in Noumea. Video: David Robie/PMC

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe flew to Nouméa from Vietnam on Monday for a day of meetings with political leaders, customary chiefs and voting commission officials to take stock of the referendum.

After meeting a range of leaders during the day and flying to Koné to meet President Paul Néaoutyine of the pro-independence stronghold Northern province, Philippe made a televised address from Premiere (the local affiliate of France TV) to the territory on Monday night.

Praising the people of New Caledonia for the peaceful conduct of the referendum, he called for a “meeting of the signatories” next month to consider the next step.

Prime Minister Philippe indicated that a fresh approach was now needed with a greater emphasis on social and economic development than political structures and to address “inequalities”.

The prime minister had lunch with students at the University of New Caledonia. Following his TV address and an evening “pool” interview with media, he flew back to Paris on Monday night.

‘Listening to us’
“Édouard Philippe was here to listen to us,” said FLNKS president Roch Wamytan. “Despite the opposition crowing that they were going to dominate 70/30, we have spoken of dialogue and negotiation.”

Anti-independence Rassemblement leader Pierre Frogier said the referendum result “anchors New Caledonia in France” and there was no need for further votes.

SBS French executive producer Christophe Mallet (left) and Pacific reporter Stefan Armbruster interview voters at Noumea’s Hotel de Ville. Image: David Robie/PMC

On referendum day, I travelled around with the SBS crew from Australia, reporter Stefan Armbruster and executive producer Christophe Mallet of SBS French radio. I was keen to get a sense of the reportage and I have the utmost respect for Armbruster’s reporting, particularly from a “diversity” perspective.

They endeavoured to get a “balanced” view of the voting mood by starting off at Nouméa’s Hotel de Ville in the heartland of “white” New Caledonia. They interviewed the first voter and also spoke to a range of voters with different stories to tell.

I was also impressed with their live crosses for both television and radio absorbing a sense of atmosphere and colour.

Leaving the town hall, we visited a new “decentralised” polling station for the Loyalty Island voters with a remarkably long queue for Lifou voters.

Law change
A law change was required in France earlier this year to enable the Nouméa -based islanders to vote without having to pay expensive airfares to get to their home islands.

“This is an incredible privilege for us to be here,” said French-born Mallet, who has lived in Australia for 16 years.

A voter, Boris Ajapuhnya, told Mallet in an SBS French interview this was their golden chance, for the Kanak people to express their wish in an historic vote.

“The moment is right now,” he said.

While the indépendantistes might have lost this vote, they did much better than expected. With up to two more referendums to come in 2012 and 2022, they are in a healthy negotiating position with a chance to win independence in the end.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

New Caledonia celebrates Bastille Day and thinks about independence

By Dr Lee Duffield, recently in Kanaky/New Caledonia

The Quatorze Juillet (14 July) events in Noumea this month, as in any small French city, reflected the grand military parade down the Champs Elysees in Paris – ranks of soldiers and a senior officer taking the salute.

It was like a refrain from colonial times, kepis under the coconut palms, as if no breath of a wind of change was anywhere being felt.

The impression of total normality was strong also the evening before at the informal public celebrations concentrated on Noumea’s town square, the Place des Cocotiers.

READ MORE: Part 1 of a series of three articles on Kanaky/New Caledonia

This was patriotic enough, red-white-and-blue everywhere, (even with a can-can, and a visiting Army band from Australia), anticipating the joy of France’s victory in the World Cup football a few nights later. Mostly a big fete being enjoyed by a highly multicultural community.

Signs of the future
A taste of the inter-communal character of New Caledonia was given at the tail-end of the day’s parade, by a local cadet platoon slow-marching to a Melanesian chant.

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It was not in the tradition of the Grande Armee of Napolean; it was imaginably the young officer corps of an independent country.

Not that a full independence is greatly expected from the coming vote, mandated under agreements made by the country’s political groups with the French government – the Matignon Accord (1988) and Noumea Accord (1998).

Opinion polls have been running strongly against it and even many in the indigenous Kanak community can be heard to say it is “not yet the time”.

Voices from other times

Dr Lee Duffield’s New Caledonia seminar to be hosted by the Pacific Media Centre at Auckland University of Technology today.

Certainly the weekend events of Bastille Day and then the World Cup made it “France Week”, not the best time to talk change.

“People realise the independence idea is not practical”, said “Jacques”, a fifth-generation member of the European settler society, the Caldoches.

A well-established and prominent business owner, he was uneasy about speaking under his own name on the divisive issue of the referendum – exposure would create difficulties of one kind or another.

But he was prepared to recite the standard analysis of the anti-indépendentiste cause, beginning with the observation that French investment and a high standard of living had won a lot of hearts.

“Even in the Loyalty Islands province, which is a big Kanak area, the opinion polls which always showed a strong ‘yes’ vote for independence – as much as 70 percent, are now showing 50/50 or even a slight ‘no’,” he says.

“Things have been slowly improving with the circumstances of life for most people, and I would agree some change and reform is a good thing, but slowly — it needs to be long-term.

“Women are helping. In the tribus, the villages, they do so much of the work providing for the household and raising children, and they are the practical ones.”

Three flags of Noumea – European Union, French tricolour and the independent Kanak ensign. Image: Lee Duffield

Keeping watch on the future
Jacques admits to being worried about what the future may hold, “only a little worried” over the idea of violence or revolt affecting his family.

He does take some comfort being able to tell of a precautionary doubling of the paramilitary Gendarmerie and National Police forces, reinforced from France with the approach of referendum day on November 4 – together with the availability of an extra intervention force in Tahiti.

Yet his most serious concern is about what can be agreed on next among the different parties.

“We don’t know what will take place after November 4, or what it will be like here in another 10 or 20 years.

“We definitely need a road map, and we should manage all this together.”

That is a common position of the Caldoche and the general settler community, which began falling back on prepared positions after the violent confrontations of the 1980s that brought new Caledonia close to civil war.

Even the most strongly “French loyalist” anti-indépendentiste parties, barring a few on the margins, want just the status quo – no fast forward but no winding back the clock.

They have committed to abiding by decisions of the referendum and have not talked of any attempts at stamping out the independence movement.

Gone are the days when the local European gentry had the ear of French ministers who were themselves brought up in the colonial era, and could hold off change.

New order
Instead the territory has been through 30 years of managed change, including ingenious and effective reforms, all falling short of a full independence, but all focused on the referendum process now about to start.

The changes:

  • Power sharing in an elected territory parliament and executive Council, with both indépendentiste and anti-indépendentiste members.
  • The formation of a consultative Senate for customary or traditional Kanak leadership (not unlike the body envisaged by Indigenous Australians in their Uluru proposals – struck down unexpectedly this year by Prime Ministerial decree). It gives additional representation to people from the Tribus, tribes or clans, who have a special customary legal status as well as their full French citizenship, and are subject to customary laws.
  • Major funding of the government from France.
  • A safety valve provision that says, independence will follow a “yes” vote, but after a “no” indépendentistes in the parliament can still get it reconvened, to have a second, or even third referendum.
  • Three provinces with extensive powers and sustainable budgets set up after 1988, one of which (South province on the main island, Grande Terre) is predominantly “French”, the other two (North province and the Loyalty Islands) are Kanak territory and mostly run by local Kanak politicians.

Experience in government, money and Big Nickel
It all amounts to actual experience in governing a modern democratic state, more than just practising, with the idea that over the three decades the whole society would be “ready” for the decision to be taken at the referendum.

Money is important in setting up the lines of argument and conditioning people’s views about what they hope to obtain in their future.

Three big nickel mines with refining plants and modern ports produce more than 10 percent of the territory’s wealth but crucially well over 80 percent of its export earnings. All arguments come back to the importance of the industry to the economy and ways to get good returns that will benefit the local population.

The point is made everywhere on the anti-indépendentiste side and among neutral observers that actual independence would prompt likely reductions in French government support, over time, and a fall in investor confidence in France or countries like Australia.

Investment from China would almost certainly fill the gap – there is much worry about Chinese interest and ambitions in the Pacific region. Would a newly independent government, strapped for cash to provide benefits to its people, use its powers over immigration and economic policy to admit more participation from China?

What is the direct French financial commitment at this time?

Future security
France has already handed over all powers to the autonomous government in New Caledonia, except for military and foreign policy, immigration, police and currency – and the specific issue in this year’s referendum is whether those will be passed on as well.

The bulk of French national spending on the territory is to pay the soldiers, police and public servants including teachers – bringing up again the sound of marching boots on July 14.

Also various grants come to the local treasury through Paris, like $80 million over 4-5 years for economic development and professional development of personnel, from the European Union.

France is partnered with Australia and New Zealand in guaranteeing security in the South Pacific region. These have a protective role for the 278,000 French citizens in New Caledonia, but the regional connections are strong, so their decision-making this year is being watched closely far and wide.

Dr Lee Duffield is an independent Australian journalist and media academic. He is also a research associate of the Pacific Media Centre and on the Pacific Journalism Review editorial board. This article was first published by EU Australia, and the next two articles will be published by Asia Pacific Report over the weekend.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

New Caledonia referendum offers chance to turn page, says journo

The Kanak flag and the French Tricolour …. an independence vote is due on November 4. Image: RNZ Pacific

By RNZ Pacific

This year’s referendum on independence from France is a chance to turn a new page on New Caledonia’s past, says a Kanak journalist.

The referendum is is due on November 4 – more than 30 years after a boycotted poll and subsequent violence which led to the 1988 Matignon Accord.

The agreement has allowed gradual progress towards independence to be finally decided this year.

READ MORE: 30 years on from the Ouvéa massacre

A 98 percent majority voted in favour of staying with France in the 1987 vote which was boycotted as the indigenous Kanaks waged a campaign for independence.

Violent conflict continued, including the Ouvéa massacre when 19 Kanaks and two French soldiers were killed but the 1998 Noumea Accord a decade later allowed gradual steps towards independence to be finally decided this year.

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Andre Qaeaw of the Kanak-run station Radio Djiido said as the next referendum approached, the media had a role to play in keeping conflict at bay.

Speaking at the Pacific Media Summit in Tonga earlier this month, he said the situation did not need to be portrayed as confrontation between France and the Kanak people.

“People are influenced by [the] media. Plenty of media talk about the events as a confrontation – France against Kanak people or Pacific Ocean people,” he said.

‘We can change’
“What we are trying to do is show that we can change.

“We can also say that during the First World War, the Second World War, Oceanic people, they fight together with Australia, New Zealand and [the] French. So we have a common heritage so we are not obliged to be always in the binary confrontation point of view.”

“The challenge is to explain that we are not against France, we are not against another country.”

Andre Qaeaw of New Caledonia’s Radio Djiido … Kanaks don’t want to relive the events of 1988. Image: RNZ Pacific

Some politicians were inciting divisions, he said, but his people did not want to relive events like those of 1988.

“We try to be smarter, a new way of thinking things. We have Facebook, we have internet, we have tutors, we don’t have the same way of thinking [then] and now.

“We have to prepare the new generation,” Qaeaw said.

Pacific means peace, he pointed out and all people belonged.

“The Kanak people say we need to do better, to share and to think not only towards Noumea, the capital.

“We have 300 tribes. They don’t have water, they need schools, they need education and health.

“Pacific islanders, we just need that respect,” he said.

This RNZ Pacific news item is published under a content sharing agreement with the Pacific Media Centre.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Macron begins New Caledonia visit as independence vote looms

The Kanak flag and the French Tricolour …. an independence vote is due on November 4. Image: RNZ Pacific

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

French President Emmanuel Macron today began a three-day visit to New Caledonia – six months before the territory’s vote on independence from France, reports RNZ Pacific.

Macron is due to meet a wide range of political leaders and visit the northern province and the Loyalty Islands province.

President Macron … first French president to visit Ouvea since the 1988 hostage crisis. Image: PMC file

He is also due to become the first French president to visit Ouvea where 19 pro-independence Kanak protesters and three French soldiers were killed in a 1988 hostage crisis but there is opposition to him visiting the tomb of the slain Kanaks.

READ MORE: Pacific Islands Forum monitoring team in Tahiti for elections

As part of his programme, Macron will return the original deed with which France took possession of New Caledonia in 1853.

Macron is also due to address the Pacific Community whose headquarters is in Noumea.

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Tomorrow, anti-independence supporters are expected to rally in Noumea to express their pride at being French.

The territorial self-determination referendum is due on November 4.

Tahiti elections
In Pape’ete, a team from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has arrived as observers for the second round of the Tahitian general election, reports RNZ Pacific.

The Forum secretariat said it was the first time the Forum had sent observers to the territory since French Polynesia became a full member in 2016.

Marshall Islands chief electoral commissioner Daniel Andrew and a PNG diplomat in Fiji Jacinta Tony-Barron make up the team which is supported by secretariat officials.

They will observe pre-polling, polling and counting for the second round which will take place on Sunday.

Forum Secretary-General Dame Meg Taylor said such exchanges were great opportunities for election officials across the region to share knowledge, experiences and best practice.

After last month’s first round of voting there have been claims of irregularities in Bora Bora, Makemo and Huahine.

A complaint has been lodged seeking to annul the Huahine election.

In 2004, the results in the Society Islands were annulled and fresh elections were then held in early 2005.

This article has been republished as part of the content sharing agreement between Radio New Zealand and the AUT Pacific Media Centre.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Rainbow Warrior takes on fresh eco mission to Papua, Indonesia

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Rainbow Warrior takes on fresh eco mission to Papua, Indonesia

By Astari Pinasthika Sarosa in Jakarta

The Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior is sailing throughout Indonesia – including West Papua – as a vehicle for environmental campaigns.

Rainbow Warrior has often sailed to remote areas to directly see the environmental issues in the region and immediately act against its destruction.

Recently in the Philippines, this is the first visit to Indonesia since 2013. The Rainbow Warrior will be sailing in the archipelago from this week until next month.

The visit themed Jelajah Harmoni Nusantara will be the longest tour of the Rainbow Warrior.

Its first destination is Papua to witness the natural beauty of Papuan rainforest. The ship’s crew will also see the underwater life of Raja Ampat.

After leaving Papua, the Rainbow Warrior will head to Bali, sampling a rich culture which holds local wisdom, and its beliefs that the best source of energy comes from nature.

The last destination is Jakarta. As the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta has many issues including pollution and waste.

‘Eco-friendly’ city goal
The Rainbow Warrior aims to help Jakarta to be a more comfortable and eco-friendly city.

“The main point of this tour is to create harmony in protecting the Indonesian environment,” Greenpeace said in a press release.

The name Rainbow Warrior was based on the prophecy of a native American tribe Cree in saying, “When the earth becomes sick and dying, there will come a day when people from all over the world will rise up as the Rainbow Warrior.”

The Rainbow Warrior is the third-generation version of the campaign ship.

The first generation vessel was destroyed by limpet mines. On 10 July 1985, French secret agents planted two bombs and sank the Rainbow Warrior, killing photojournalist Fernando Pereira.

After the bombing, the original Rainbow Warrior ship was towed to Matauri Bay, in New Zealand’s Cavalli Islands, and was submerged as an “alive reef” attracted marine life and recreational divers.

The second Rainbow Warrior sailed for 22 years until 2011 when she was replaced with the third generation Rainbow Warrior.

Like its predecessor, this ship carries out green and peaceful campaigns for the future of the planet.

Glittering time at Toulouse, but Novès’ sacking smacks of scapegoating

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Glittering time at Toulouse, but Novès’ sacking smacks of scapegoating

Guy Novès … “his sacking smacks of scapegoating … after two decades of terrific rugby his Toulouse teams gave to us all.” Image: NewsDuJour

TRIBUTE: By former Planet Rugby editor Danny Stephens

Not three hours had passed since last week’s message from Queen Elizabeth II said she was “…hoping that they [the French] rediscover their swagger” when the news broke that Bernard Laporte had ended Guy Novès’ attempts at helping the French do just that.

It was news that, in all probability, has ended Noves’ rugby career unless Toulouse come calling once more. A one-club man, he spent 13 seasons on Toulouse’s wing as a player and 22 years orchestrating the team in that famous one-kneed coaching posture (not forgetting a couple of years prior as an assistant).

His time in charge of Toulouse was nothing short of glittering: nine championships, four Heineken Cups and a pair of runners-up medals for each tournament as well. He was responsible for probably three of the great generations of French players emerging and dominating – the first of Califano, Pelous, Castaignede, Ntamack the second of Servat, Elissalde, Michalak, Jauzion, Clerc, the third with Maestri, Dusautoir, Picamoles, Medard.

He was considered for the national job after the 2007 World Cup, but declined the offer to stay with Toulouse.

It wasn’t the first time he had declined the national team either: he ended his own international playing career.

After declaring himself not yet recovered from a thigh injury ahead of one match, the selectors didn’t pick him again when he did declare fitness before the next. He promptly quit, alleging a lack of contact and respect from the federation.

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His decision to reject the national team and stay with Toulouse in 2007 smacked of lingering bitterness from that, as well as giving the impression that he simply wasn’t interested in anything outside la Ville Rose.

Embodied Frenchness
Yet, he embodied Frenchness. His unique and mildly eccentric coaching posture, his perpetually well-groomed appearance (tracksuits looked stylish on him) and weighty antipathy toward the English – he once ended a radio interview with the words “I’ll take no lessons from the English” – all combined to leave you in no uncertain terms where he came from, as did his occasional explosions of temper; he was led away by police after the Heineken Cup win in 2005 when stewards refused to let his family onto the pitch to celebrate with him.

But it was a strange last decade. He seemed unable to find a fourth generation to bring through at Toulouse, up against the stiffer competition that other clubs imported and finding no way to cope with the increasingly attritional demands of the French season.

Toulouse looked outdated by the time Novès relented to take the national job.

He could not find selectoral consistency in the national team either, rarely his fault. Having started out looking to impose his own philosophy of forward bullies allowing graceful backs to play, combinations of injury and club/country overlaps left him returning to a more direct game, not his natural inclination.

And as a coach who loved to let his players express themselves, the international level playing structures seemed to be too antithesis, while the inconsistencies in selections – again, rarely his fault – also left him unable to achieve that which he had been able to at Toulouse.

Capacities for his teams to wow
But whatever the recent criticisms thrown his way, nobody should forget what Novès contributed to the game of rugby at Toulouse, the abilities and calibre of player he developed and nurtured, the capacities for his teams to wow.

That should be a legacy that lasts far longer than his time in charge of a national team governed by a national rugby framework in desperate need of a large shake-up.

His sacking smacks of scapegoating in some ways – which should be another reason Noves should proudly disassociate himself from the FFR and reflect on two decades of terrific rugby his Toulouse teams gave to us all.

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20 years on, the disturbing case of journalist ‘JPK’ is still unsolved

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: 20 years on, the disturbing case of journalist ‘JPK’ is still unsolved

By Walter Zweifel of RNZ Pacific

It’s 20 years today since French Polynesian journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud vanished.

“JPK”, as he was widely known, left no trace, no body has ever been found. There is conjecture and speculation – and there are denials. Murder charges have been laid and they have been dropped.

Police investigations have been running since 2004 but for the lawyers of those suspected of kidnapping JPK “it’s more likely that yeti exists than Jean-Paul Couraud was murdered.”

Today, members of his family are at his empty grave in Punaaiua, remembering a son, a father, a brother.

They remain convinced that in 1997 he was the target of foul play and killed for researching the affairs of the then strongman and president Gaston Flosse.

Until 2004, Couraud’s family was led to believe that he might have committed suicide.

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However, amid the political upheaval of that year, a former spy of the now disbanded intelligence service of Flosse told a minister that the journalist had been drowned.

Hit like a bomb
When the claim by Vetea Guilloux was repeated in the Territorial Assembly in the middle of a no-confidence debate into the pro-independence Temaru government, it hit like a bomb.

According to Guillox, two employees of the GIP militia, Tino Mara and Tutu Manate, kidnapped Couraud, maltreated him and after tying breeze blocks onto his body, they dumped him into the depth of sea between Tahiti and Moorea

The GIP was an unarmed militia led by Rere Puputauki, who in turn reported to Gaston Flosse.

Another branch of the Flosse apparatus at the time was an intelligence unit run by a former French spy, whose tasks included keeping an eye on political rivals and Gaston Flosse’s mistresses.

Vetea Guilloux was in the intelligence unit, his father had a top job within the GIP.

In the feverish political climate in late 2004, Guilloux was immediately arrested, tried, sentenced and jailed for slander.

The Couraud family, however, lodged a formal murder complaint, triggering an investigation which is yet to be concluded.

Switched sides
Gaston Flosse, meanwhile, succeeded in getting a Temaru supporter to switch sides and oust his first pro-independence government.

Defying the assembly leadership, he arranged a presidential election to be returned to power and while giving a policy speech, he swore that he had never ordered anybody’s death.

Investigative journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud … drowned by assassins? The headstone on his empty grave in Punaaiua, Tahiti, says: 20 May 1960-15 December 1997 – “he struggled for more democracy, more justice and against all forms of corruption.” Image: AFP/RNZ Pacific

Like many observers, the publisher of the Tahiti Pacifique monthly Alex du Prel noted Flosse’s surprising declaration.

“He said he never gave orders for anybody to kill and everybody believed him. But he didn’t say nobody ever was killed.”

The case had an echo even in France where national television networks dispatched reporters to Tahiti. Also, Le Monde paid close attention to the JPK affair.

Gaston Flosse claimed he had been defamed by France 3 and took unsuccessful court action against its chief executive and a reporter.

He also pursued Le Monde for linking him to the 1997 disappearance of Jean-Pascal Couraud.

Slow investigation
JPK’s brother, Philippe Couraud, noted that the investigations were slow.

“The problem we had was between 2004 and 2007, three years, and it was very difficult. At this time, I was sure that the Justice did not want to help us. I mean, not Justice but the men who were there. So that’s why at this time, everything was organised to stop the enquiries.

JPK’s mother told TV reporters at the time about her disappointment with the judicial machinery, suggesting there had been obstruction.

Alex du Prel confirmed that: “We had state attorneys who admitted themselves that they had been appointed to protect Mr Flosse, and they did that job quite well actually.”

As a former minister in the Chirac government, Gaston Flosse had enjoyed cordial ties with Paris for a couple of decades, not least because he was a staunch supporter of the French nuclear weapons testing regime.

Things changed in 2007 when Jacques Chirac was replaced as president by Nicolas Sarkozy.

Pent up corruption complaints started to find their way through the courts and now Gaston Flosse is ineligible to hold public office having also become the most sentenced politician in contemporary France.

Murder charges
In 2013, the JPK affair saw murder charges being brought against Tutu Manate and Tino Mara after investigators surreptitiously recorded their phone conversations.

A year later, the charges were dropped over an apparent technicality.

“The phone taps were illegal because they didn’t have the right signature and the right explanation when they were ordered, so that kind of robs the smoking gun”, said du Prel.

Rere Puputauki failed to challenge the murder charge in time.

What is left are kidnapping charges against the three GIP men.

As for a possible motive for a killing, Philippe Couraud said he believed his brother had documents that could have damaged Gaston Flosse and his associates in Paris.

JPK had a career at the local newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti and became its editor but was forced to quit under pressure from Flosse.

He subsequently joined the opposition politician Boris Leontieff as an advisor and worked for him when he disappeared.

Sensitive information
His brother Philippe said JPK had sensitive information.

“We discovered a paper of 12 to 13 pages which was in possession of my brother, and in fact it was because he had this information that he was killed,” he said.

Du Prel said the papers pointed to money being channelled via Japan, possibly to an account held by Jacques Chirac.

“At the time, they were looking into financing over in Tahiti and they saw that part of the money had gone to Japan. So the local representative to the state attorney had asked Paris for help to define where the money would have gone in Japan and he got a message back saying stop, do not enquire in that direction, you’re getting close to the top of the state. That, I published at the time and nobody ever denied it.

French media reports however said Japanese authorities had found no record of any bank account alleged to have been held by Chirac.

This came despite a French secret service report in 1996 mentioning it.

Whatever the possible reason for JPK’s disappearance, Philippe Couraud remains convinced his brother was killed.

“We are absolutely certain that my brother has been assassinated, and everybody who can read the files has the same conclusion,” he said.

Twenty years later and after 13 years of investigations, the only person taken court has been Vetea Guilloux for claiming JPK had been killed.

No wonder, there is the French expression ‘justice á deux vitesse’ – two-speed justice.

Walter Zweifel is a senior journalist with RNZ Pacific and a specialist in French Polynesian affairs. This article had been republished with permission.

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‘We’re losing the climate change battle,’ says Macron

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: ‘We’re losing the climate change battle,’ says Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron appeals to the world to do more on climate change. Video: Al Jazeera

French President Emmanuel Macron has delivered a rallying cry to world leaders that more must be done to fight climate change.

But he told a global summit in Paris that they were currently “losing the battle”.

The summit is promoting greater worldwide investment in clean energy, reports Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler.

From Suva, The Fiji Times reports that of the various commitments on climate finance made at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, last month, only a small proportion will be finding its way into supporting climate adaptation or resilience.

Better green funding needed
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama made this statement while speaking at the Paris summit, reports Alisi Vucago.

“The data on this is clear. For many donors, this is simply regarded as development assistance. And for private sector investors, the absence of an immediate and apparent economic return on their investment means that funding climate adaptation or resilience efforts are rarely pursued,” said the COP23 co-president.

-Partners-

“The leaders on this panel are fully aware of the need to make substantial investments in our infrastructure to protect against the danger of climate change.”

Bainimarama said Fiji was focused on rebuilding and strengthening our infrastructure in a climate resilient way, with blended finance from institutions like the Green Climate Fund and multilateral development banks to supplement the Fijian government’s own capital investments.

“And we are developing insurance products for the Pacific region which are currently not available for climate-related events, which could be replicated beyond the region,” he said.

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