Mine deal heralds end of bitter New Caledonia feud

Claudine WERY
·2 min read
The massive Goro mine complex has been shut since December.

New Caledonia's fiercely divided political parties on Thursday reached a deal on the sale of a key nickel mine which sparked a collapse of the French territory's government and threatened to cloud a third independence vote set for next year.

The massive Goro mine complex has been shut since December, when striking workers tried to storm the site to prevent its sale by the Brazilian mining giant Vale and the French state.

Under the new deal hammered out by pro-independence groups, loyalist parties and indigenous Kanaks, the mine will be sold to a consortium that now includes employees as well as three regional provinces.

As a result, local investors combined will keep a majority stake of 51 percent, while the Switzerland-based commodities trader Trafigura, which originally planned to buy the site, will hold just 19 percent. A pension fund will own the remainder.

"More than just a simple end to the crisis, this political accord creates a new mining model for southern Caledonia," said Roch Wamytan, a Kanak leader who is president of the Congress in Noumea.

Wamytan and his allies in the pro-independence FLNKS alliance forced the collapse of the coalition government on February 2 to protest the sale as well as a budget plan for the cash-strapped island in the southern Pacific.

Its huge nickel reserves are crucial for the local economy, which has a large degree of autonomy though many are pushing for total independence.

A referendum on breaking away was rejected first in 2018 and then again in October, and a third vote will be held in 2022 as part of a de-colonisation plan from 1998 known as the Noumea Accord.

Private investors will pay one billion euros ($1.2 billion) and the French state will add 400 million euros in loans and guarantees for the mine, which accounts for 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.

"This accord by New Caledonia's political forces gives new hope for our ability to find solutions, by going beyond our usual positions," said Sonia Backes, president of the island's southern province where the mine is located.

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