Separatists in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia said they would be open to discussing the possible enlargement of the electorate for the provincial election of 2024, according to the French interior minister. It has been one of the sticking points in the discussions on the future status of the archipelago.
Gerald Darmanin, the French Interior Minister was in the Pacific territory at the weekend to discuss a number of issues such as the Noumea Agreement, decolonisation, nickel, security and the environment. It was his third visit since November.
He reported that representatives of the pro-independence Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) had accepted the idea of expanding electoral lists, something they had refused until now.
The change would allow 11,000 native Caledonians who were thus far excluded from the electoral process, to vote.
"The independence supporters have taken a big step by agreeing to discuss ... including people who have been blocked for a very long time," said Darmanin after a final meeting before his return to Paris.
But the independentist President of the Congress (territorial assembly), Roch Wamytan, pointed out that the FLNKS had only "started discussions, but we have not yet given a definitive agreement," adding that "we are still far from an agreement on the electoral body."
Why are talks between Paris and New Caledonia's rival groups deadlocked?
Following the 1998 Noumea Accord between France and New Caledonia, three referendums on self-determination have rejected independence. The KLNKS boycotted the last one, held in December 2021.
Since then, Paris undertook several attempts to bring the local government and the opposition together for a dialogue on the institutional future of the archipelago - in vain until now.
Darmanin also dsicussed the "right to self-determination" of the New Caledonian population, reiterating that he did not see that happening "within two generations" after the three successive "no" votes in the recent referendums.
A new round of talks is planned for August and will take place in Paris.
For France, New Caledonia has become increasingly important in a period of global energy transition away from fossil fuels.
The archipelago is home to some 25 percent of the world's nickel, a component for batteries which are used in electric cars.
Currently China is the biggest single client for New Caledonia's nickel exports.
Experts suspect that an independent New Caledonia could be more amenable to Beijing's advances, which are partly motivated by an interest in the territory's mining industry.