New Caledonia’s coalition government collapsed Tuesday after pro-independence politicians resigned over disagreements over the budget and the sale of a nickel factory on the French South Pacific territory.
The resignation of the FLNKS group -- who count five of 11 members of the executive -- means Congress will have to elect a new executive within 15 days.
The group has been tussling with the government over the sale of the Brazilian Vale nickel factory, with indigenous leaders claiming an offer by a local firm has been unfairly overlooked by the French government and the current owners.
“The members of the government (separatists) present their resignation,” said a letter filed by Louis Mapou, leader of the UNI-FLNKS group and his counterpart Pierre-Chanel Tutugoro from the UC-FLNKS (Caledonian Union).
The information was confirmed to AFP by government sources.
FLNKS leaders said that the sale of the Vale nickel and cobalt plant “gives priority to the interests of multinationals without considering the aspirations of local populations”.
Vale wants to sell the factory -- which provides 3,000 direct and indirect jobs -- to a consortium of Caledonian and international buyers led by Swiss commodities trader Trafigura.
Indigenous leaders had wanted a Caledonian-Korean consortium that promised to keep a majority stake in islanders’ hands, but the consortium withdrew its offer.
Workers were evacuated in December after pro-independence activists attempted to storm the facility to prevent its sale.
New Caledonia is also facing an unprecedented budgetary crisis, and is battered by Covid-19.
The FLNKS said the delay of a vote on the territory’s budget, which has been pushed back to March, was another reason for their resignation.
An island of around 270,000 inhabitants located about 2,000 kilometres (1,250) miles east of Australia, New Caledonia has been a French territory since 1853 but enjoys a large degree of autonomy.
The government collapse comes only months after an independence referendum was narrowly won by those rejecting a breakaway from France.
October’s referendum was the second of two, both of which resulted in wins for the “No” camp. Another referendum is set to be held in 2022.