France has offered the territory independence in 1986 with continued legal association with France. Many whites, who want New Caledonia to remain French, have been disdainful of the offer, fearing that it is an artful way of granting the territory complete independence. They might feel less suspicious if France demonstrated, by reinforcing the base, that it is serious about maintaining its strategic presence in the South Pacific and its political presence in New Caledonia.
Reports Sunday from Noumea, capital of New Caledonia, indicated that many whites still display anger over [Francois Mitterrand]'s visit there, denouncing it for giving them nothing. The reports came to Paris, however, before Mitterrand made his announcement about reinforc ing the base in Noumea.
In discussions with reporters, Elysee Palace spokesmen stressed the significance of the reinforcement of the military presence. An aide to Mitterrand noted that the South Pacific is strategically important to France because it conducts nuclear tests there and because, as a strong military power, it has strategic interests throughout the world. He also reminded the journalists that New Caledonia served the United States as a naval base during World War II.