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New Caledonia set for vote on ending 167 years of French rule

China watching Sunday's independence poll on increasingly strategic island

AUCKLAND -- New Caledonia, a mineral-rich French territory in the South Pacific, will hold a referendum on Sunday to decide on whether to become independent and shake off 167 years of colonial rule.

The plebiscite on the island, about 1,500 kilometers east of Australia, follows more than three decades of violence and tortuous negotiations pitting Indigenous Melanesians -- known as Kanaks -- against smaller groups of Polynesians and French settlers and their descendants. The islanders have enjoyed a high standard of living and strong ties with France.

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