THE reforms France has announced for its island territory of New Caledonia, several hundred miles east of Australia, are a welcome effort to ease further the tensions between descendants of French settlers and the indigenous Melanesians, called Kanaks. The changes are important steps in preparing New Caledonia for greater independence. Carrying them out is the next challenge in easing tensions: The Kanaks seek full independence, France envisions partial independence.
The changes aim to meet three clear needs: to stimulate the local economy, improve the education of Kanaks, and establish a procedure for settling competing land claims of French descendants and Kanaks. The latter incorporates elements of French law and Melanesian custom. In addition, the French have offered amnesty for some past crimes.
The colonial era is over. Once reforms are in place that protect the island's European descendants, France ought to establish a plan, and an approximate timetable, leading to full independence.