An island in the southwest Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,000 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia. New Caledonia was annexed by France in 1853 and administered from Tahiti until 1860, when it became a separate colony. In the years following, a number of smaller surrounding islands were added as dependencies. During World War II, New Caledonian authorities were early supporters of Free France, and, later, U.S. air bases were established on the island. In 1984 France granted internal autonomy to New Caledonia, with the possibility of eventual independence. This provoked a confrontation between native Melanesians, who now make up less than half the population, who demanded immediate independence, and European New Caledonians, about one-third of the population, who wanted continued French administration. After increasing tension and violence between the two sides, direct French authority was reestablished in 1988, with the promise of a referendum on self-government being held in 1998.