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Protestors demand action on Falconbridge project

Published by MAC on 2005-11-25

Protestors demand action on Falconbridge project

By Radio Australia

25th November 2005

Workers in the nickel industry in New Caledonian, joined by members of the nationalist Union Caledonienne party are demanding that Canada's Falconbridge honour its pledge to build a smelter . Or else, that the French take over.

NEW CALEDONIA: Protestors demand action on Falconbridge project

Radio Australia - Pacific Beat 25/11/2005

The troubles in New Caledonia's nickel industry continued on Friday, with protests and demonstrations around the capital Noumea. Police have lifted a union blockade of Noumea's port, which has disrupted traffic and business since a strike began at the SLN nickel smelter on 14 November. And in a separate protest this morning, the Confederation of Kanak and Exploited Workers Unions - USTKE - organised a rally around central Noumea. The protest rally highlights concern about the uncertain future of a major nickel project in New Caledonia's Northern Province

Presenter/Interviewer: Nic Maclellan Speakers: Hnalaine Uregei, Confederation of Kanak and Exploited Workers Unions (USTKE); Pascal Naouna, President, Union Caledonienne party.

MACLELLAN: That's the sound of this morning's rally outside the French High Commission in Noumea. Thousands of protesters gathered to call on the French government to support a major development project in the north of New Caledonia.

Today's protest rally and general strike was called by the USTKE union confederation. USTKE spokesman Hnalaine Uregei.

UREGEI: It's been a very good mobilisation - there's more than 5,000 people and it's been a very long time since we've seen that many people in the streets of Noumea.

The protest was called by the USTKE to defend the project for a factory in the Northern Province.

We were joined by the FLNKS, other political parties, the National Council for Indigenous People and other groups.

We sent a delegation to the High Commission to argue our position on the negotiations underway in Paris, stressing our support for the Koniambo project and the Bercy Accord.

Beyond today's general strike, USTKE is committed to other actions in the days and weeks to come.

MACLELLAN: Falconbridge's US$2.2 billion Koniambo project is a central element of plans for economic rebalancing in New Caledonia under the 1998 Noumea Accord.

With most major economic infrastructure in the Southern Province, the proposed construction of a nickel processing plant will be a pillar of economic development and employment in the rural north.

The Canadian corporation Falconbridge has developed Koniambo in partnership with the local mining company SMSP, which holds 51 per cent of the project.

Under a 1998 agreement known as the Bercy Accord, the final decision on Koniambo must be taken before 31 December this year.

If Falconbridge does not invest US$100 million and commit to the project before the end of the year, the Koniambo nickel reserves can be taken over by Eramet and Societe Le Nickel - that's the company which runs New Caledonia's only existing smelter in Noumea.

A failure to develop the nickel plant in the north would cast a dark shadow over the future of the Noumea Accord.

But the whole timeline has been thrown into crisis by a corporate battle to control Falconbridge. On 11 October, the giant Canadian nickel producer Inco announced the friendly takeover of Falconbridge, its long time rival.

At a time of booming demand for nickel from China, the deal pre-empts efforts by the European company Xstrata to target Falconbridge for hostile takeover.

These corporate battles have thrown up new uncertainty. As the Inco takeover will not be finalised before the end of the year, can Falconbridge make a decision on the Koniambo project before the 31 December deadline?

For Pascal Naouna, president of the pro-independence Union Caledonienne party, the northern project must go ahead.

NAOUNA: The Bercy Accord must be fully upheld before 31 December.

If the Falconbridge / SMSP group maintain their pledges, there's no problem and the factory will go ahead as planned.

If on the other hand, the cards are played again and Eramet / SLN takes control of the Koniambo nickel reserves, then they have a duty to go ahead with construction of the factory.

This is a project that our party has fought for - above all, it's a project for economic rebalancing in the north, for the benefit of the population and especially the Kanaks.

If the deal doesn't go through as outlined in the Bercy Accord, then SLN must commit itself to building this factory, in the interests of the Northern Province.

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