France sends armoured vehicles with machine gun capability to New Caledonia

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Bound for New Caledonia
Bound for New Caledonia . . . France's Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories Gérald Darmanin says via social media platform X that these armoured vehicles, known as Centaur, can also fire tear gas. Image: @CMannevy

By Margot Staunton, RNZ Pacific senior journalist

Police in New Caledonia have a new weapon in their arsenal — state of the art armoured vehicles with machine guns, flown in from France to take control of the law and order situation following the violent unrest.

The state of emergency was lifted in the territory last Tuesday but a security force of more than 3000 could remain until after the Paris Olympics.

Minister of the Interior and Overseas Territories Gérald Darmanin said via social media platform X that the vehicles, known as Centaur, can also fire tear gas.

“These armoured vehicles will help the police put an end to all roadblocks and completely re-establish public order in the archipelago,” Darmanin said.

“In the event of more serious threats, such as a terrorist attack, which would involve the use of armed force, the Centaur may be equipped with a 7.62 remotely operated machine gun.”

He said the off-road vehicles can carry up to 10 people and fire tear gas from a turret to disperse violent individuals or keep them at bay.

A journalist on the ground, Coralie Cochin, told RNZ Pacific things are far from calm in the suburbs, despite official reports that law and order was being restored on the outskirts of Nouméa.

“The police fought with protesters who had just erected a roadblock and set fire to it in my street today,” Cochin said, who lives in the northern suburb of Dubea.

“People fear for their houses. I have got friends who had to escape from their burning properties who have been left with nothing.”

She said people were divided over whether the Centaur will change anything.

“The Kanak people are afraid, they are wondering why the police have machine guns when all they have to fight with is stones,” Cochin said.

Others believe the Centaur is essential to crush roadblocks and protect property but attempts to eradicate them completely are so far proving futile.

“As soon as they are removed, pro-independence protesters put them back up again. It’s like a game of cat and mouse,” she said.

France has also decided to go ahead with the European elections in New Caledonia on Sunday, despite political tensions in the territory.

High Commissioner Louis Le France said in a statement that voting material had arrived and preparations were under way to transport it to polling stations.

Le France said a curfew would remain in place from 6pm to 6am until the day after the elections, as well as a ban on the sale of guns and alcohol.

He said Nouméa’s international airport would remain closed until further notice, while the situation was “normalised”.

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

Coralie Cochin, told RNZ Pacific things are far from calm in the suburbs, despite official reports that law and order is being restored on the outskirts of Nouméa.
A burning brush protest barricade in Nouméa . . . situation far from calm in the suburbs, despite official reports that law and order is being restored. Image: Coralie Cochin/RNZ
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