The local government of this French overseas territory today denounced the whirlwind visit of President Francois Mitterrand as an attempt to "abuse public opinion" on the issue of independence, and independence-seeking Kanak natives gave the trip lukewarm approval.
The reactions, contained in communiques issued by the recently elected territorial government of New Caledonia and the rival provisional "government of Kanaky" proclaimed by Melanesian militants, came in response to statements from Mitterrand upon his return to Paris last night.
The French Socialist president said that he had succeeded Saturday in avoiding a rupture in talks on New Caledonia's future. He added that he now would call a special parliamentary session to extend a state of emergency in the South Pacific territory and that he would reinforce a French military base here.
Mitterrand also appealed to the rival groups to continue a "dialogue" with the central government, but he did not discuss a plan for independence in "association" with France drawn up by his special envoy here, Edgard Pisani.
The president of the conservative local government, Dick Ukeiwe, said at a press conference today that after having studied Mitterrand's statements carefully, "we are now convinced that this trip is a new blow aimed at abusing public opinion" and that it utterly failed to address "Caledonian realities."
Chief among New Caledonia's realities, Ukeiwe said, was a peaceful demonstration in the streets of Noumea Saturday by more than 30,000 persons -- accounting for about one-fifth of the territory's population -- "to proclaim their attachment to France."
Scattered acts of violence continued to disrupt economic recovery efforts, however. Authorities reported today that unknown vandals had burned seven trucks and caused other damage at a nickel mine near the eastern coastal village of Thio last night.
Both supporters and opponents of independence agreed that Mitterrand's trip was connected mainly with his domestic French political problems.
The head of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, Jean- Marie Tjibaou, conferred today with Australian Prime Minister Robert Hawke and Foreign Minister Bill Hayden in Canberra during a stopover on his way to France to promote the independence cause.
Ukeiwe, himself a Kanak but a leading opponent of independence, announced that he would leave for France Tuesday. He accused Mitterrand of giving "privileged" status to Tjibaou, who he said heads a "rebel government" in his capacity as president of the self-proclaimed provisional "government of Kanaky."
In his press conference, Ukeiwe condemned the "contradiction, obscurities and ambiguities" of Mitterrand's statements about New Caledonia, particularly regarding the Pisani plan and the state of emergency. He said the plan's contents and timetable were becoming "more and more hazy and inconsistent" and called for a simple vote of yes or no on independence.
The Pisani plan calls for a referendum in July on a form of independence in association with France that would protect the interests of European settlers and other immigrants, who combined outnumber the native Kanaks, or Melanesians, 57 percent to 43 percent. The plan also would serve France's interests by maintaining a presence in New Caledonia, including French troops and military bases.
Both pro- and anti-independence groups have said they rejected Pisani's plan. The militant Kanak front led by Tjibaou insists that any referendum must be limited to the Kanak people, who are the "victims of colonialism."
The opponents of independence -- represented chiefly by the neo-Gaullist party that won the territorial elections in November amid a boycott by Kanak militants -- maintain that Pisani's plan is weighted in favor of the separatists.
"After the massive demonstration Saturday, I think the Pisani plan is dead," said Jacques Lafleur, a deputy in the French National Assembly from here. "For us to associate ourselves with the Pisani plan is to accept socialist Kanak independence."
Lafleur, appearing with Ukeiwe and the territorial government at today's news conference, said he strongly opposed the extension of a state of emergency declared by Pisani Jan. 12. That action came after a French youth and a Kanak militant leader were killed in separate incidents in the countryside, and anti-independence crowds went on a rampage of rioting and arson in Noumea.
Twenty persons have been killed, 14 of them Kanaks, since militant natives began a campaign of violent agitation for independence in November.
Ukeiwe said that extending the 12-day state of emergency, which includes a curfew, contradicted efforts to restart an economy heavily dependent on tourism and nickel mining.
The spokesman of the "Kanaky government," Yeiweni Yeiweni, dismissed Mitterrand's announcement on military reinforcement as a "unilateral decision" to protect French interests.
The Kanak militants' statement said the most positive aspect of Mitterrand's trip was the coverage it brought to "the liberation struggle of the Kanak people."