New Caledonia's unlikely revolutionary

Jean-Marie Tjibaou is an unlikely revolutionary. Once a Jesuit priest and anthropologist, he is now president of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front. Pulling at his bushy gray curls, Mr. Tjibaou punctuates a drawl with soft giggles that belie the image one expects from the leader of a long and sometimes violent struggle for independence.

``How often do you think of your teeth?'' he demands when asked about right-wing claims that he is coercing Kanaks (the island's native Melanesians) to boycott this Sunday's referendum.

``It's only when they hurt that people even remember they have teeth. And so it is with the French. It is only times like this that they remember the Kanaks.''

Tjibaou is one of the first to admit it will be a long time before the territory can economically afford a complete break with France.

What the Kanaks want, says Tjibaou, is a guarantee of independence.``After that we can discuss an agenda and negotiate what form our relationship with France should take in the future.''

``In health, education, and in financing, it is true we will need France's help for some time,'' Tjibaou says.

``Of course, once we are independent, we will also be free to negotiate aid from Australia and America too.''

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