NZ foreign minister Peters calls for ‘calm wise heads’ in New Caledonia crisis

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NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters
NZ Foreign Minister Winston Peters . . . "We think it's wise for us to join with the Pacific Islands Forum, and have a statement we all agree to, rather than [New Zealand] ... speaking out of turn." Photo: RNZ/Samuel Rillstone

RNZ Pacific

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters says “calm wise heads” are needed to sort out the crisis in New Caledonia.

A security force of more than 3000 personnel — more than half of them flown in from France — have returned to the capital Nouméa of the French territory to restore a sense of normalcy.

It comes after weeks of deadly unrest during which seven people were shot and killed, and others causing more than 200 million euros (NZ$353m) in damage.

But protests continue in the outskirts of Nouméa against the French government’s move to change New Caledonia’s electoral laws which pro-independent indigenous groups fear will dilute their political power.

Pacific Islands Forum chair Mark Brown wrote to the New Caledonia president to offer support, while Vanuatu’s climate minister Ralph Regenvanu blamed France for the crisis.

Speaking earlier this week as the final evacuation flight for New Zealand citizens and other nationals was about to depart from Nouméa, Peters would not be drawn on New Zealand’s position on Kanak aspirations for decolonisation.

“We think it’s wise for us to join with the Pacific Islands Forum, and have a statement we all agree to, rather than [New Zealand] … speaking out of turn,” Winston Peters said.

Long-term future
Peters said this was especially prudent given the views some members of the forum had been expressing in regard to New Caledonia’s long-term future.

“It’s not being reluctant to say something. But when you’re dealing with a major crisis of law and order and the destruction of property and businesses which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fix up, we need to keep our mind on that,” he said.

“And then, when we’ve got that under control, look at the long-term pathway forward to a peaceful solution. In the end, you would expect there to be agreed self-determination.”

From May 21-28, seven New Zealand flights helped to evacuate 225 New Zealanders and 145 foreign nationals from New Caledonia.

Peters paid tribute to the hardworking teams behind the joint NZ Defence Force and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) operation which made the assistance possible.

Commercial flights into and out of New Caledonia remain closed until Sunday, June 2, and a nightly curfew is still in effect.

On Wednesday, New Caledonia’s public prosecutor confirmed three Nouméa municipal police officers were facing criminal charges after they were found to have engaged in acts of severe violence against a Kanak man they had just arrested.

The municipal police officers are not part or the French security forces that have been sent to restore law and order in New Caledonia, RNZ Pacific understands.

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

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