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France gives its 'Falklands' more autonomy and aid

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France has its own ''Falklands'' troubles. Just as with Britain, the remnants of the French empire span the globe. ''Home'' to 1.6 million Frenchmen ranges from the tiny islands of Wallis and Futuna, smack in the middle of the Pacific, to the tiny islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off Canada's eastern shore.

Since no Canadian junta is likely to order an invasion of St. Pierre and Miquelon, there is little fear of a foreign attack. Instead, the most serious threat to French rule in the far-flung specks of what was once a mighty empire comes from disgruntled local inhabitants.

And that is the reason Francois Mitterrand's Socialists have recently held local elections and given the most populous of France's overseas possessions more autonomy.

For centuries, Paris ruled its empire with an iron hand, treating Polynesia and the Perigord as one and the same under the law. In the 1950s and early '60s, though, most of the empire, including Indochina and North and West Africa, gained independence.

Conservative governments gave the smaller of the remaining possessions, the so-called ''territories,'' considerable autonomy in the 1970s. But the larger remnants of the empire, the overseas ''departments'' - including Martinique, Guadeloupe, La Reunion, and Guiana - remained under the firm control of Paris.

In recent years, it has become clear that French rule does not suit some overseas citizens. In 1980, in Guadeloupe, just before President Giscard d'Estaing was to visit the island, the main courthouse and local assembly were bombed and an Air France jet was blown up.

Most volatile has been the Pacific territory of New Caledonia. In January of this year, independence-minded native Melanesians ambushed and killed two French gendarmes. A year before that, armed French settlers had stormed into the local assembly to protest any weakening of the territory's links with the mainland.


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