La asamblea legislativa de Nueva Caledonia, archipiélago de Melanesia bajo administración de Francia, ha decidido adoptar el emblema del movimiento indigenista kanako como segunda bandera oficial junto a la tricolor francesa. Se trata de una medida de compromiso entre los nacionalistas, partidarios de una mayor autonomía o incluso de la independencia, y quienes prefieren mntenerse bajo soberanía de la metrópoli.
New Caledonia adopts second flag in compromise over French rule
New Caledonia, one of France's most exotic colonial outposts, has adopted a second flag as part of a compromise between pro-independence activists and those who loyally support ongoing French rule.
Bonnie Malkin in Sydne
Published: 6:14PM BST 20 Jul 2010
Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, visited the South Pacific over the weekend to raise the indigenous Kanak flag and the French Tricolour above the high commission in the capital Noumea.
The symbolic move comes after the New Caledonian Congress overwhelmingly voted to adopt the emblem of the indigenous movement, which features red, blue and green stripes with a yellow sun and black totem, as the nation's second official flag.
However, there was opposition to the move, with some residents arguing that using two flags underlined the ethnic divisions within the country, which remain more than 20 years after violent unrest in the mid-1980s forced France to declare a state of emergency and send paratroopers to restore order.
Nic Maclellan, an author and researcher on New Caledonia, said that some people wanted a new flag for New Caledonia, incorporating elements of the Tricolor and the Kanak flags, that would promote the idea of a "common destiny".
"There is a contentious debate over whether a new flag would symbolise that people of different political and ethnic groups had come together as a nation, rather than having two flags that indicate the country is still divided."
The unusual move makes New Caledonia one of only a handful of countries, including Canada, that have two official national flags.
The island nation's population of 240,000 is deeply divided between Kanaks, a Melanesian ethnic group, who make up about 44 per cent of the population, and ethnic Europeans, who make up 34 per cent.
While Kanaks are in the majority, the islands, which were named by Captain James Cook in 1774 for their resemblance to the coast of Scotland, retain a distinctly Gallic flavour. All inhabitants of New Caledonia are French citizens, carry French passports and take part in the legislative and presidential French elections. Nicolas Sarkozy is head of state, French is the official language and French patisseries selling croissants and baguettes dot the palm-fringed islands. The towns are laid out to a traditional French design, complete with Marie and Hotel de Ville and the cars driving past the island's pristine white beaches and turquoise lagoons all bear French number plates.
However, moves are afoot to sever ties with France and for New Caledonia to become fully independent. Under the Noumea Accord, which was signed by both loyalists and independents after the 1980s unrest, a working party was set up to devise new bank notes, a new national anthem and a new motto. However, negotiations over a new name for the islands, which the pro-independence groups want to call Kanaky, have faltered.
Residents are due to vote on taking further steps towards autonomy in 2014.