Fresh violence flares up in New Caledonia – 38 arrested

French gendarmes deployed in Dumbéa on June 24
French gendarmes deployed in Dumbéa yesterday as unrest has erupted again in New Caledonia. Image: NC la 1ère/RNZ

By Patrick Decloitre, RNZ Pacific correspondent French Pacific desk

Fresh violence has erupted in several parts of New Caledonia over the past three days, with more burning and destruction and at least one death connected to unrest.

The renewed unrest comes after seven pro-independence figures from the CCAT (Field Action Coordination Cell, close to the hard-line fringe of the pro-independence platform FLNKS) were indicted on Saturday and transferred by a special plane to several jails in mainland France.

They are facing charges related to the organisation of the protests that led to grave civil unrest that broke out in the French Pacific territory since May 13 in protest against a French Constitutional amendment.

The amendment, which is now suspended, purported to change voter eligibility in New Caledonia’s local elections by opening the vote to French citizens having resided there for an uninterrupted ten years.

French security forces vehicle burnt down in the South of Dumbéa, New Caledonia on 24 June 2024 – Photo NC la 1ère
French security forces vehicle burnt down in the south of Dumbéa, New Caledonia, yesterday. Image: NC la 1ère/RNZ

The pro-independence movement strongly opposed this change, saying it would marginalise the indigenous Kanak vote.

Because of the dissolution of the French National Assembly (Lower House) in view of a snap general election (due to be held on June 30 and 7 July 7), the Constitutional Bill however did not conclude its legislative path due to the inability of the French Congress (a joint sitting of both Upper and Lower Houses) to convene for a final vote on the controversial text.

At the weekend, of the 11 CCAT officials who were heard by investigating judges after their arrest on June 19, seven — including CCAT leader Christian Téin– were indicted and later transferred to several prisons to serve their pre-trial period in mainland France.

Since then, roadblocks and clashes with security forces have regained intensity in the capital Nouméa and its surroundings, as well as New Caledonia’s outer islands of Îles des Pins, Lifou and Maré, forcing domestic flights to be severely disrupted.

In Maré, a group of rioters attempted to storm the building housing the local gendarmerie.

In Dumbéa, a small town north of Nouméa, the municipal police headquarters and a primary school were burnt down.

Other clashes between French security forces and pro-independence rioters took place in Bourail, on the west coast of the main island.

Several other fires have been extinguished by local firefighters, especially in the Nouméa neighbourhoods of Magenta and the industrial zone of Ducos, French High Commissioner Louis Le Franc told the media on Monday.

Fire-fighters and their vehicles were targeted by rioters on Monday – Photo Facebook Union des Pompiers Calédoniens
Fire-fighters and their vehicles were targeted by rioters yesterday. Image: Union des Pompiers Calédoniens/FB/RNZ

But on many occasions firefighters and their vehicles were targeted by rioters.

Many schools that were preparing to reopen on Monday after six weeks of unrest have also remained closed.

More roadblocks were erected by rioters on the main highway linking Nouméa to its international airport of La Tontouta, hampering international air traffic and forcing the reactivation of air transfers from domestic Nouméa-Magenta airport.

In the face of the upsurge in violence, a dusk-to-dawn curfew has been maintained and the possession, sale and transportation of firearms, ammunition and alcohol, remain banned until further notice.

The fresh unrest has also caused at least one death in the past two days: a 23-year-old man died of “respiratory distress” in Nouméa’s Kaméré neighbourhood because emergency services arrived too late, due to roadblocks.

Another fatality was reported on Monday in Dumbéa, where a motorist died after attempting to use the express road on the wrong side and hit an oncoming vehicle coming from the opposite direction.

Le Franc said just for yesterday, June 24, a total of 38 people had been arrested by police and gendarmes.

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

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