New Caledonia archipelago votes on Autonomy from France

NOUMEA, New Caledonia — Voters in New Caledonia, a French archipelago in the South Pacific, were determining Sunday if they want freedom from France at a referendum that marks a landmark in a three-decade decolonization attempt.

Over 180,000 voters were encouraged to answer this question: “Would you need New Caledonia to acquire whole sovereignty and eventually become independent?”

Outcomes were expected after Sunday.

If voters choose liberty, a transition period will instantly open so the archipelago will prepare for its future standing. Otherwise, New Caledonia will continue being a French land.

2 decades back, 56.4percent of respondents who engaged in a similar referendum opted to maintain ties with Paris rather than backing independence.

The two referendums would be the last steps of a procedure that began 30 decades ago after years of violence which pitched pro-independence Kanak activists against people willing to stay in France.

The archipelago currently counts 270,000 inhabitants, including the two native Kanaks, who suffered from stringent segregation policies, and descendants of European colonizers.

New Caledonia became French 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III — Napoleon’s nephew and heir — also has been used for years as a prison colony. It became an international land after World War II, together with French citizenship awarded to all Kanaks in 1957.