New Caledonia first president Jean Laques dies

The late Jean Lacques. PHOTO: Government of New Caledonia

The funeral has been held for Jean Leques the former long-time mayor of Noumea and president of New Caledonia.

Leques died at home last Wednesday, aged 90. 

A service was held at the Noumea cathedral after he had lain in state at the town hall for the public to pay their last respects. 

His coffin was carried into the cathedral past a guard to acknowledge him as the only New Caledonian who had been a Grand Knight of the Legion of Honour. 

While Leques’ political career began with the Caledonian Union, for which he won an assembly seat in 1970, he later joined the anti-independence RPCR party. 

He served as mayor for 28 years from 1984 until he retired at the age of 82. 

As a member of the RPCR he was one of the signatories to the 1998 Noumea Accord, and in 1999 he became the first president of the collegial government set up under the Accord. 

Tributes have been paid from across the political spectrum and from mainland France. 

The presidency in Paris issued a statement, saying “better than anyone, he knew the challenges that this part of France had to meet to preserve civil peace within a diverse population, with clashing and intertwined histories and apparently contrary aspirations”. 

The pro-independence FLNKS said “although he was a political rival, the memory remains of a man of conviction and word, a humanist and fervent Catholic, who marked the contemporary history of our country”. 

The government of the Southern Province said his death is a loss at a time when New Caledonia must define its new future.