limestone coral group in the French overseas country of New Caledonia, southwestern Pacific Ocean. The group comprises the low-lying islands of Ouvea, Lifou, and Mare; the highest point is at 453 feet (138 metres), on Mare Island. The islands were inhabited by Melanesians more than 3,000 years ago. Sighted by Europeans early in the 19th century, the islands became a focus of Anglo-French conflict. They were annexed by France in 1853 and attached administratively to New Caledonia in 1946. Yams, taro, bananas, and coconuts are grown, with copra the chief export. The Loyalty Islanders, who are Melanesian, speak several languages. Area 765 square miles (1,981 square km). Pop. (2004) 22,080.
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