The future depends on two primary colors

In the referendum that will be held in the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia Sept. 13, people will have a choice of two ballot papers: They can ``votez bleu, votez France'' and elect to continue what is now 154 years of French rule. Or they can post a yellow ballot sheet, thereby demanding independence. But many Kanaks (native islanders) say there is a third choice for the population: They can choose to boycott the referendum.

The most radical independent group, the National Kanaks Socialist Liberation Front (FLNKS) argues that if all residents in New Caledonia who have been in the territory for more than three years are allowed to vote - as French proposes - the referendum is a foregone victory for France. Instead they argue that only native Melanesians and people who have one parent born in New Caledonia should be eligible to decide the territory's future.

Since an economic boomlet in the 1960s, which attracted immigrants from France, Polynesia, and Asia, the Kanaks have been a minority (now only about 43 percent) of their own country.

Despite the ban on protests, the FLNKS has pledged to continue its campaign to encourage the boycott in the hope that France will be unable to claim a victory for democratic principles.

Almost all the governments in the region, including Australia and New Zealand, argue that France has already failed to provide a climate where the 154,000 New Caledonians can make a free choice.

An Aug. 22 demonstration involved 400 Kanaks in a violent confrontation with police.

Although demonstrations had at press time not been repeated, the French authorities have loaded the territory with 8,000 members of the French security forces in an effort to avoid the same violence that killed 32 people between 1984-85. These forces include three companies of the French riot police famous since the 1960s student demonstrations in France.

What will independence mean?

But just as significant as the military presence is the impact that independence would have on the country's economic outlook.

The territory, which sits 20,000 kilometers from France between the tropic of Capricorn and the equator, receives almost a third of its budget from Paris.

It is these subsidies that have allowed the public service sector to double its size since the 1970s so that it now provides half the wages and salaries in the territory.

The French government has suggested that a vote for indepencence could cut off this financial support. This option is inconceivable to the FLNKS.

``We don't want it tomorrow, it's a rupture we can't afford,'' says Yeiwene Yeiwene, a leader of the FLNKS.

But what the region, the French Caledonians, and the Kanaks themselves have not yet answered is whether the territory can afford not to become independent. -30-{et

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