French police will remain in unrest-affected territory, says Macron

Reuters French President Emmanuel Macron speaks in Nouméa, New Caledonia Photo: May 23, 2024 Reuters

President Macron said restoring peace was the “absolute priority”

President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that French police forces will remain “as long as necessary” in New Caledonia, as he arrived in the unrest-plagued French Pacific territory.

Macron said the 3,000-strong force deployed from France would remain in place, including during the Paris Summer Olympics, if necessary.

Six people, including two police officers, have been killed and hundreds injured in unrest sparked by a controversial electoral reform proposed last week.

The indigenous Kanaks say the political influence of native peoples will be diluted if more French residents are allowed to vote in local elections.

There have long been tensions between the central government in Paris and the pro-independence Kanaks of New Caledonia, who make up about 40% of the small archipelago.

The group of islands, located between Australia and Fiji, has been French territory since the 19th century. The riots have marked the worst unrest seen since the 1980s.

After flying to Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, on Thursday, President Macron said he wanted the return of peace, calm and security “as quickly as possible.”

“That is the absolute priority,” said the French leader.

He paid his respects to the victims of the riots and met with local political and business leaders.

The summit included separatist leaders, who said beforehand they hoped it could “breathe new life” into talks with France.

Macron admitted that the most delicate conversation he could have had was about politics and the future of New Caledonia, reports BBC Australia correspondent Katy Watson, adding that he will have a huge job on his hands.

Police have detained 269 people since the violence began on May 13, and New Caledonia is currently under a state of emergency.

But Macron hinted that the state of emergency could be lifted in the coming days: “I personally believe that the state of emergency should not be extended.”

    EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock A burned vehicle and a destroyed building near Nouméa, New Caledonia.  Photo: May 22, 2024 EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

New Caledonia has a population of approximately 300,000 people, including 112,000 indigenous Kanaks.

Under the 1998 Noumea Agreement, France agreed to give the territory more political autonomy and limit voting in provincial and assembly elections to those who were then residents.

Since then, more than 40,000 French citizens have moved to New Caledonia.

Last week, the National Assembly in Paris proposed granting the right to vote to French residents who have lived in the territory for 10 years.

Since this requires a change in the constitution, the measure faces more obstacles.

The Noumea agreement allowed three referendums to be held on the future of the country. Independence was rejected in all cases.

The first two obtained slim majorities in favor of remaining part of France. The third, in December 2021, was boycotted by the pro-independence parties because it was held during the Covid pandemic.

Google Map of New CaledoniaGoogle

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