21 May 2024

Pacific NGO alliance condemns France for 'betrayal of the Kanaky people'

11:14 am on 21 May 2024
This photograph shows a Kanak flag waving next to a burning vehicle at an independantist roadblock at La Tamoa, in the commune of Paita, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia on May 19, 2024. French forces smashed through about 60 road blocks to clear the way from conflict-stricken New Caledonia's capital to the airport but have still not reopened the route, a top government official said on May 19, 2024. (Photo by Delphine Mayeur / AFP)

This photograph shows a Kanak flag waving next to a burning vehicle at an independantist roadblock at La Tamoa, in the commune of Paita, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia on 19 May, 2024. Photo: DELPHINE MAYEUR / AFP

An alliance of over two dozen Pacific non-government organisations has condemned France for what they say is a "betrayal" of New Caledonia's Kanak population.

In a statement, the group has also called for calm and peace as the civil unrest enters its eighth day after Paris adopted controversial constitutional amendment that would open up the local electoral rolls to allow French residents in who have been in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections.

It is a move that pro-independence protesters say would weaken the indigenous Kanak vote and the principle reason for the violent unrest.

The Pacific Regional Non-Government Organisations (PRNGOs) has condemned "the Macron government for its poorly hidden agenda of prolonging colonial control over the territory".

The alliance said Kanak leaders had called repeatedly for the withdrawal of the proposed constitutional changes that would endanger the indigenous peoples' right to self-determination and threaten ongoing peaceful dialogue about future arrangements for the territory for several months.

"The changes, proposed unilaterally by the Macron government, would remove voting eligibility provisions that have been preserved and protected under the 1998 Nouméa Accords as a safeguard for indigenous peoples against demographic changes that could make them a minority in their own land and block the path to freedom," the statement said.

"Despite repeated protests and warnings that Macron's constitutional modification initiative could end a 30-year period of relative peace under the Accords, the proposals, already passed by the French Senate, were again pushed through its National Assembly early last week.

"Growing frustration, especially amongst Kanak youth, at what is seen locally as yet another French betrayal of the Kanaky people and other local communities seeking peaceful transition, has since erupted in riots and violence in Nouméa and other regions."

So far, six people have been confirmed dead as a result of the armed clashes, including two police officers.

A Kanak journalist Andre Qaeze told RNZ Pacific police and armed forces are attempting to clear and open roads to parts of Nouméa.

However, Qaeze, who is with Radio Djiido, said this work is being made difficult by the protesters.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is ready to send a Hercules to Nouméa to bring New Zealanders home as soon as the French give permission to do so.

The Fiji government is also working with the Australian and New Zealand governments to get Fijian citizens out of Nouméa, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka said in Parliament on Monday.

According to PRNGOs, the security situation is likely to be made worse by humanitarian challenges due to the damage to shops and other outlets for daily necessities and medicines.

The members of the alliance are calling for the French Presidency to immediately withdraw its "unilaterally-imposed project of removing constitutional provisions that safeguard pro-independence voters".

They also want the United Nations and Pacific leaders to send a neutral mission to oversee and mediate dialogue between all parties to the Noumea Accords and resulting political process.

Listen to Kanak people

Meanwhile, the Australia West Papua Association (AWPA) said the French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal's comments that Paris would "show the utmost firmness towards looters and rioters and toughen sanctions" was a "short-sighted" statement and does not "look at the underlying causes of the protests".

"France should listen to the Kanak people," the organisation said in a statement.

AWPA's Joe Collins said "like all colonial powers anywhere in the world, the first response to what started as peaceful protests is to send in more troops, declare a state of emergency and of course accuse a foreign power of fermenting unrest".

He said the unrest is being caused by France itself.

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