28 Aug 2003

Tension in New Caledonia's Saint Louis village after police raid

11:12 am on 28 August 2003

In New Caledonia a Kanak leader in the Noumea suburb of St Louis says he fears they can no longer control the youths in the area after a confrontation with police on Monday.

St Louis has been at the centre of a violent ethnic confrontations between the local Kanaks and settlers from Wallis and Futuna.

Since December of 2001, three people have been killed in the district.

The dispute developed over Kanak concerns that the Wallisians were occupying their land - most of the Wallisian families have since been moved to another suburb in Noumea.

On Monday, French police and special forces, using two helicopters, ten armoured vehicles and dozens of trucks, stormed into St Louis to arrest suspects in the earlier murder cases.

They arrested ten people, kept four in custody and confiscated weapons, but were met by stone throwers and two police were injured.

There were also exchanges of gun fire and three houses were burned down, .

Robert Moyatea, one of St Louis' prominent chiefs, says they'd always told their youths the police would never interfere in the community, but after Monday's raid he fears they can no longer control them.

Meanwhile local media reports say there are fears for the safety of the remaining Wallisians in Saint Louis after the local Kanaks erected fences around the Catholic Mission where they are staying to prevent anyone going in or out.