France says will quell New Caledonia riots ‘whatever the cost’

May 20, 2024
People wait in line to buy provisions from a supermarket along a street blocked by debris and burnt out items following overnight unrest in the Magenta district of Noumea, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia, on May 18, 2024. — AFP

NOUMEA: French forces smashed through dozens of barricades in a bid to retake the main road to New Caledonia´s airport and a top official said on Sunday that Paris would reclaim all of the Pacific territory from pro-independence militants “whatever the cost”.


After six nights of violence that have left six dead and hundreds injured, French government high commissioner Louis Le Franc warned in a televised address that new raids on independence strongholds would be staged.

“Republican order will be re-established whatever the cost,” Le Franc said, adding that if separatists “want to use their arms, they will be risking the worst”.

New Caledonia, with a population of about 270,000, has been convulsed by unrest since Monday, sparked by French plans to impose new rules that would give tens of thousands of non-indigenous residents voting rights.

The French territory off northeastern Australia has long been riven by pro-independence tensions. But this is the worst violence in decades.

Protesters have set vehicles, businesses and public buildings alight and taken control of the main road to La Tontouta International Airport which has been closed to commercial flights.

Authorities say about 230 people have been detained while an estimated 3,200 people are either stuck in New Caledonia or unable to return to the archipelago.

France says about 1,000 additional security forces have been sent to the islands.

Some 600 heavily armed police and paramilitaries took part in an operation Sunday to retake the 60-kilometre (40-mile) main road from the capital Noumea to the airport, authorities said.