Riots in New Caledonia: after six deaths, the French state goes on the offensive

Riots in New Caledonia: after six deaths, the French state goes on the offensive
Riots in New Caledonia: after six deaths, the French state goes on the offensive

The anger of the separatists, provoked by a reform of the electoral body of the South Pacific archipelago, triggered a cycle of violence marked by days and nights of fires, clashes and blockades.

In the absence of flights to and from New Caledonia, suspended since Tuesday, the French executive has given priority to the route between Nouméa and its international airport.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced the start on Sunday morning of a “major operation of more than 600 gendarmes, including around a hundred from the GIGN”. This should make it possible to “completely regain control of the 60 km main road”.

The operation consisted of sending a convoy from Nouméa to remove all obstacles on this route. It is made up, among other things, of gendarmerie armored vehicles and construction machinery which clear the passage. However, certain roadblocks removed by the convoy were re-established as soon as it left.

AFP journalists noted that at midday on Sunday, in Nouméa and neighboring towns, traffic for those who wanted to leave the city towards the northwest remained hampered. Independentists filter the passage through numerous roadblocks, made of stones and various devices in particular.

Although these journalists were able to reach La Tontouta airport in the afternoon, they had to stop at various roadblocks, some of which were manned by men armed with sticks or bladed weapons.

One of them, in Tamoa, said he intended to stay at all costs: “We are ready to go all the way, otherwise what’s the point?”

New reinforcements expected

Restoring this circulation is especially urgent since New Zealand and Australia announced on Sunday that they had asked France to be able to land planes, in order to repatriate their nationals.

“We are ready to take off and are awaiting authorization from the French authorities to know when these flights can take place safely,” New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement.

His Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, affirmed on X that Air Force aircraft were “ready to fly”, but that France had not given its agreement.

On Saturday, the government of New Caledonia estimated that 3,200 people were stranded in the absence of flights, either because they could not leave the archipelago or because they could not reach it.

“Insurrectional situation”, “state of civil war”: 5 questions to understand the wave of violence in New Caledonia

The violence left six dead, the latest on Saturday afternoon, a Caldoche (Caledonian of European origin) in Kaala-Gomen, in the North province. The other five dead are two gendarmes and three kanaks, in the Nouméa metropolitan area.

The High Commission of the Republic in New Caledonia announced in a press release on Sunday the imminent arrival of “several hundred internal security, logistical and operational support and civil security forces”, in addition to the reinforcements already sent.

“In total, 230 rioters were arrested” in nearly a week, he added.

Regaining control should be a long-term task for law enforcement. The violence in some neighborhoods every night shows that the rioters remain very determined.

“There are (…) lawless zones (…) which are held by armed gangs, independence bands, the CCAT. And in these places, they destroy everything,” said Saturday on BFMTV the vice-president of the Southern province of New Caledonia, Philippe Blaise.

The Field Action Coordination Cell (CCAT) is a radical independence organization, accused by the authorities of inciting greater violence.

Schools closed

New example of the unrest during the night from Saturday to Sunday: according to the public television channel Nouvelle-Calédonie La 1ère, the media library in the Rivière salée district of Nouméa was set on fire. Questioned by AFP, Nouméa town hall responded on Sunday morning that it had “no way at the moment to verify it, as the neighborhood is inaccessible”.

The exceptional state of emergency measures are maintained, namely the curfew between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. (9:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. in Paris), the ban on gatherings, the transport of weapons and the sale of alcohol and the banning of the TikTok application.

For the population, traveling, buying basic necessities and seeking healthcare becomes more difficult every day. Fewer and fewer businesses are able to open and the numerous obstacles to traffic increasingly complicate the logistics of supplying them, especially in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

On Sunday morning, the Southern province, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the population, announced that schools would remain closed all week. “This time should make it possible to finish securing the educational establishments, their access and to take stock of the damage in order to find as quickly as possible the conditions for a resumption of teaching, the following week, where this will be possible,” explained the province.

The constitutional reform which ignited the powder aims to expand the electorate during the provincial elections, at the risk of marginalizing “even more the indigenous Kanak people”, according to the separatists. Adopted on Wednesday by the deputies, after the senators, the text must still be voted on by the parliamentarians meeting in Congress, on an undetermined date.

The passage of the Olympic flame through New Caledonia scheduled for June 11 has been canceled. “Priority, really, to the consolidation of the return to public order, and then to appeasement”, explained to the press the Minister of Sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra.

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