Preventing Armed Conflict In France (New Caledonia)

Preventing Armed Conflict In France (New Caledonia)

Year(s): 1988 – present.

Location: New Caledonia, Overseas France.

UN Regional Group: Western Europe and Others.

Type of Conflict: Risk of a Vertical (state-based) Intrastate Conflict with Foreign Involvement.

Type of Initiative: Mediation of a peace agreement and a monitoring mission.

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The Government of France and the UN.

Impact: Lasting.

Summary: A series of peace agreements mediated by the French government and the ongoing supervision of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation has ensured that the debate over the future of New Caledonia has not escalated into armed conflict.

Description of Case 

The collection of islands in the Pacific known as New Caledonia was part of the French Empire until 1946, when it became a French Overseas Territory. Divisions between the indigenous Kanak population and European and Polynesian settlers have been a feature of New Caledonian politics since the colonial period, with several Kanak rebellions taking place over the years. In 1984, a coalition of pro-independence Kanak political parties formed the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale Kanak et Socialiste, FLNKS) and launched an insurgency against French security services with the goal of achieving independence. Within weeks, they had gained control of many towns and established a parallel administration.[1] The conflict was marked by clashes between militias, assassinations, and hostage-taking, culminating with the 1988 hostage incident at Ouvéa Cave, in which four gendarmes and over twenty FLNKS personnel were killed.[2]

The 1988 Matignon Agreements ended the fighting before it could escalate. Mediated by the Government of France and signed by FLNKS and “loyalist” political parties, the Agreements provided for a gradual transition to independence.[3] It was an interim solution, with a referendum scheduled for 1998 providing a deadline for the parties to the conflict to find some consensus.[4] Although the process outlined in Matignon calmed the conflict, many issues remained unresolved. Kanak support for the peace process was mixed, with many political parties maintaining militias and hard-line elements within them advocating a return to armed struggle.[5] Talks held between the New Caledonian political parties in the early 1990s culminated with an agreement to postpone the 1998 referendum and manage the transition within the framework of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation. This allowed the negotiation of a transition to independence based on consensus and delayed the potentially volatile referendum.[6] The agreement was formalised on 5 May 1998 by the Nouméa Accord, which was signed by the main New Caledonian political parties (including the FLNKS) and the Government of France.[7] The Accords also introduced a provincial government and a special status for the territory, created a parallel New Caledonian citizenship for residents, scheduled several referenda, and established a Comité des signataires to monitor implementation. In the ensuing decades, the UN Special Commission has monitored the process, directly supporting the New Caledonians to achieve self-determination peacefully.[8] 


[1] David Robie. “Flashback to Kanaky in the 1980s – ‘Blood on their banner’.” Asia Pacific Report. (2018) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

[2] Steven Greenhouse. “17 Die as French Free Hostages in New Caledonia.” The New York Times. (1988) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

[3] Jon Fraenkel. “Introduction: The Long-run Impact of New Caledonia’s Noumea Accord.” The Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 54, No. 2. (2019) p.200

[4] Stephen Henningham. “The Uneasy Peace: New Caledonia’s Matignon Accords at Mid-Term.” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 66, No. 4. (2019) p.519

[5] Ibid. p.532

[6] Nic MacLellan. “The Noumea Accord and Decolonisation in New Caledonia.” The Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 34, No. 3. (1999) p.245

[7] L’accord de Nouméa, 1998. Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)

[8] UN. “Referendum on Status of New Caledonia ‘Important Step’ Forward in Decolonization Process, Secretary-General Says as Special Committee Begins Annual Session.” UN Meetings Coverage and Press Releases, SG/SM/19467-GA/COL/3329. (2019) Available at: (Accessed 10/12/2020)