Pacific News Minute: Armed Unrest Erupts & Tensions Build in New Caledonia

Nov 3, 2016

Credit Wikimedia Commons

The situation in New Caledonia is reported calm, after armed protesters blocked roads in the French territory for more than three days. On Sunday, six policemen were injured, two seriously. As we hear from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute, the unrest followed a lethal confrontation at a traffic stop.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, police stopped a stolen car, and then opened fire when the driver suddenly backed up. Police said he was clearly trying to run over an officer. The driver was killed. He's been identified as 23 year old William Decoire from St. Louis, a town in the outskirts of the Capital, Noumea. Decoire had been convicted of 19 robberies and was on the run after escaping from prison more than a year ago. 

On Sunday, young men from the area blocked the main road heading south from Noumea with a barricade of stolen vehicles and burning tires. Gunfire erupted when police tried to clear the roadblock and six officers were injured, five by gun shots. Violence spread to the north of the capital as well, where another road was blocked by burning cars. Eventually, authorities reached agreement with traditional and local leaders and the roads were cleared. William Decoire's family disputes police claims of self-defense and say they will file a formal compliant. 

Tensions are building in New Caledonia ahead of a referendum. In 1998, the Kanak liberation movement agreed to a political process that guaranteed a vote on independence within 20 years. With that deadline now looming, bitter arguments continue over who will be allowed to vote, with the next meeting to discuss the issue set for next week in Paris. The territory has also suffered from a collapse in the price of its main export, nickel.