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New Caledonia

New Caledonia, an island in southwest Pacific, with its near neighbours, is ruled by France. Its official status is that of pays d'outre-mer, which is directly translated as 'overseas country'. It has had that status since since 1998 (between 1956 and 1998 it was an overseas territory). It is named after Scotland's Latin name. The capital is Nouméa.

Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island was made a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864.

Political life is complicated by the fact that the indigenous Melanesian Kanak community is now a minority of some 44% following earlier population decline and immigration under French rule. The rest of the population is of French descent, known as caldoches, with a small East Asian minority.

Agitation by the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS) for independence began in 1985. The FLNKS (led by the late Jean Marie Tjibaou, assassinated in 1989) advocated the creation of an independent state called 'Kanaky'. The unrest led to agreement on increased autonomy in the Matignon Accords of 1988 and the Noumea Accord of 1998. A referendum on independence is to be held by 2018.

Disputes - international: Matthew and Hunter Islands claimed by France and Vanuatu.

From the CIA World Factbook 2000.

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A British colony called New Caledonia in North America joined with Vancouver Island to form the colony of British Columbia, which later joined Confederation and became a province of Canada.