The French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia narrowly rejected independence in a referendum yesterday, the archipelago's high commission said after a partial count of the votes. The vote rejecting a breakaway from France after almost 170 years fell to 53.3 percent, according to 70 percent of ballots counted, down from 56.7 percent in a previous referendum two years ago, it said. Turnout was much higher than last time, reflecting enthusiasm of voters who had formed long queues to cast their ballots. Yesterday's referendum was part of a carefully negotiated decolonisation plan agreed in 1998 which ended a deadly conflict between the mostly pro-independence indigenous Kanak population and the descendants of European settlers. Another referendum can be held by 2022 so long as the poll is requested by at least a third of the local legislature.