Separatist leaders in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia called Thursday for a boycott of a December independence referendum, urging the government to focus on the Covid crisis.
Members of the pro-independence FLNKS group issued the statement a day after they called on France's minister for overseas territories Sebastien Lecornu to postpone the poll during his visit there.
The government should prioritise fighting the Covid pandemic in the territory, which has claimed 245 lives since September.
Paris agreed the request from the New Caledonia legislature to hold the consultative referendum under the terms of a decolonisation plan, known as the Noumea Accord, agreed in 1998.
But the FLNKS statement said the government -- with the next year's presidential elections in mind -- was insisting on pressing ahead with the vote so as to meet its obligations under the Noumea Accord.
Given the health crisis, it argued, the referendum could not be held properly.
Lecornu, during his visit, said the health situation was "tense" but under control, and only a situation in which the epidemic was running riot could justify postponement of the referendum.
New Caledonia is due to hold what will be its third referendum on independence on December 12, having already twice rejected the proposal.
The Noumea Accord ended a deadly conflict between the mostly pro-independence indigenous Kanak population and the descendants of European settlers.
It allowed for up to three independence votes by 2022 if requested by at least a third of the local legislature.
In a first referendum in 2018, 57 percent voted to remain part of France. In the second, in October 2020, that share decreased to 53 percent.
An archipelago of around 270,000 inhabitants located about 2,000 kilometres (1,250) miles east of Australia, New Caledonia has been a French territory since 1853.