Settled by both Britain and France
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. Agitation for independence
during the 1980s and early 1990s ended in the 1998 Noumea Accord, which
over a period of 15 to 20 years will transfer an increasing amount of
governing responsibility from France
Caledonia. The agreement
also commits France to conduct as many as three referenda between 2013
and 2018, to decide whether New Caledonia should assume full
sovereignty and independence.
is the official language, but thirty-three
Melanesian-Polynesian dialects are also spoken.