Macron says ‘peace, calm and security’ his top priority for New Caledonia

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French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron (centre) at an indigenous Kanak custom meeting today after arriving in Nouméa . . . "The population is suffering from a great crisis situation. We will also talk about economic reconstruction." Image: Caledonia Community TV screenshot APR

By Patrick Decloitre, RNZ Pacific correspondent French Pacific Desk

French President Emmanuel Macron landed in Nouméa today under heavy security after pro-independence protests by indigenous Kanaks followed by rioting in the Pacific territory of New Caledonia.

Speaking to a pool of journalists, he set as his top priority the return to peace with New Caledonia still in the grip of violent unrest after 10 days of roadblocks, rioting, burning and looting.

The riots, related to New Caledonia’s independence issue, started on May 13, as the French National Assembly in Paris voted in favour of a controversial constitutional amendment which would significantly modify the rules of eligibility for local elections.

The pro-independence movement FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front) objected to the text, saying this, by allowing people to vote locally after 10 years of uninterrupted residence, would have a significant impact on their future representation.

The amendment remains to be ratified by a meeting of the Congress in Versailles (a joint sitting of both Upper and Lower Houses) before it would take effect.

Earlier, Macron said he intended to call this joint sitting sometime before the end of June.

New Caledonia’s pro-independence parties, as well as some pro-France parties, agree the current situation is not conducive to such a vote.

Call to postpone key vote
They are calling for the Versailles Congress joint sitting to be at least postponed or even that the controversial text be withdrawn altogether by the French government.

During his trip, Macron is also accompanied by Home Affairs and Overseas Minister Gérald Darmanin (who has been dealing with New Caledonia since 2022); Darmanin’s deputy (“delegate” minister for overseas) Marie Guévenoux; and Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu (who was in charge of the French overseas portfolio before Darmanin).

The CCAT field cells have reinforced their northern mobilisation
The CCAT resistance “field cells” have reinforced their northern mobilisation. Image: Caledonia TV screenshot APR

He also brought with him several high-level public servants who would form a “dialogue mission” tasked to restore contacts with New Caledonia’s political stakeholders.

The “mission” will stay in New Caledonia “as long as it takes” and its goal will be to have a “local political dialogue with the view of arriving at a comprehensive political agreement” regarding New Caledonia’s long-term future.

Along with the presidential Airbus, a military A-400 also landed in New Caledonia, bringing more law and order reinforcements.

Macron plans to meet political, economic, custom (traditional) and civil society representatives.

Doubts remain on whether all of the local parties would accept to meet the French Head of State.

Emmanuel Macron arrives in Nouméa
French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in Nouméa . . . seeking dialogue to find solutions to New Caledonian unrest. Image: NC 1ère TV screenshot APR

Normal ‘health care, food supply’ aim
Talking to the media, Macron said a return to “peace, calm and security” was “the priority of all priorities”.

This would also imply restoring normal “health care, goods and food supply” which have been gravely affected for the past 10 days.

“I am aware the population is suffering from a great crisis situation. We will also talk about economic reconstruction. For the political questions, the most sensitive ones, I came to talk about New Caledonia’s future,” he said.

“At the end of today, decisions and announcements will be made. I have come here with a sense of determination. And with a sense of respect and humility.”

Since May 13, the riots have caused the death of six people, destroyed an estimated 400 businesses for a total estimated cost, experts say, is now bordering 1 billion euros (NZ$1.8 billion).

Asked by journalists if all this could be achieved in a matter of just a few hours, Macron replied: “We shall see. I have no set limit” (on his New Caledonia stay).

Macron’s schedule with a visit initially set to last not more than 24 hours, remains sketchy.

Visit extended to 48 hours
It appears to have been extended to 48 hours.

In many parts of New Caledonia, French law enforcement (police, gendarmes) were today still struggling to regain control of several strategic access roads, as well as several districts of the capital Nouméa.

Macron said the state of emergency, which was imposed Wednesday last week for an initial period of 12 days, “should not be extended”, but that security forces currently deployed “will stay as long as necessary, even during the Paris 2024 Olympics”.

He also urged all stakeholders to “call for the roadblocks to be lifted”.

“I am here because dialogue is necessary, but I’m calling on everyone’s sense of responsibility.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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