30 May 2024

3 Nouméa municipal police officers face prosecution after violent video goes viral

10:07 am on 30 May 2024
Police patrol 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. Hundreds of French security personnel tried to restore order in the Pacific island territory of New Caledonia on May 18, after a fifth night of riots, looting and unrest. (Photo by Delphine Mayeur / AFP)

Photo: AFP/Delphine Mayeur

Three Nouméa municipal policemen are now facing a formal criminal inquiry after a disturbing video was posted in a neighbourhood watch Facebook group, allegedly implicating them in acts of severe violence against a Kanak man they had just arrested.

The municipal police officers are not part or the French security forces that have been sent to restore law and order, RNZ Pacific understands.

Initial investigations established that the violence took place on at 6th Kilometre, in the night from 25 to 26 May, and that it "followed the arrest of several persons suspected on a theft attempt", Nouméa's public prosecutor Yves Dupas said in a statement on Wednesday.

The incident was captured in a brief video, later posted on social networks, being shared hundreds of times and going viral.

"It is the management of municipal police themselves who have signalled this to us", Dupas said.

The Public Prosecutor's office said it has verified the authenticity of the short footage which depicts a "representative of the security forces striking a violent foot kick to the head of a person sitting on the ground after he was arrested".

On the same video, the other two officers, all equipped with riot gear, are seen to be standing by, surrounding the victim.

Dupas said a formal inquiry is now underway against the three municipal police officers who are now facing charges of "violence from a person entrusted with public authority and failure to assist a person in peril".

"This case will be treated with every expected severity, being related to presumed facts of illegitimate violence on the part of officers entrusted with a mission of administrative and judicial police", the statement said.

It added that "this is the first case being treated for this type of acts since the beginning of civil unrest in New Caledonia" and further stressed that law enforcement agencies deployed on the ground have displayed "professionalism" in the "difficult management of the law enforcement operations carried out [in New Caledonia".

"The victim remains to be approached by investigators in order to undergo medical examination and assess his current health condition."

Nouméa Public Prosecutor Yves Dupas – Photo NC la 1ère  L

Nouméa Public Prosecutor Yves Dupas. Photo: NC la 1ère

TikTok ban lifted

New Caledonia has also on Wednesday lifted a ban on TikTok imposed earlier this month in response to grave civil unrest and rioting.

The announcement was made as part of the French High Commissioner Louis Le Franc during his daily update on the situation.

"As a follow-up to the end of the state of emergency since Tuesday 28 May 2024, the ban on the platform TikTok has been lifted", a statement said.

The ban was announced on 15 May in what was then described as an attempt to block contacts between rioting groups in the French Pacific territory.

It had since then been widely contested as a breach of human rights.

Doubts had also been expressed on how effective the measure could have been, with other platforms (such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Viber) remaining accessible and the fact that the ban on Tiktok could be easily dodged with VPN tools.

Christian Karembeu speaking to Europe 1 on Monday 27 May 2024 - Photo screenshot Europe1.fr

Christian Karembeu speaking to Europe 1 on Monday 27 May 2024. Photo: Screenshot / Europe1.fr

World Cup '98 winner Karembeu 'in mourning'

Earlier this week, however, former footballer and 1998 World Cup champion Christian Karembeu made a surprise revelation saying two members of his family had been shot dead during the riots.

Speaking to French radio Europe 1 on Monday, Karembeu said: "I have lost members of my family, that's why I remained silent (until now), because I am in mourning."

"Two members of my family have been shot with a bullet in the head. These are snipers. The word is strong but they have been assassinated and we hope investigations will be made on these murders", the Kanak footballer said, adding the victims were his nephew and his niece.

Karembeu's career involves 53 selections in the French national football team, one world cup victory (1998), playing for prestigious European clubs such as Nantes, Sampdoria, and Real Madrid (where he won two Champions League titles), Olympiakos, Servette, and Bastia.

He is now a strategic advisor and ambassador for Greek club Olympiakos.

Reacting to Karembeu's announcements, Dupas told public broadcaster NC la 1ère on Tuesday he believed Karembeu was referring to the two Kanak persons who were killed earlier this month in Nouméa's industrial zone of Ducos.

"I do not know what his family kinship relation is with those two victims who were assassinated in Ducos", he said.

"But concerning these facts, an investigation is underway, it has gotten pretty far already, one (European) company manager has been arrested and remains in custody. The Justice is processing all the facts, crimes, committed."

"We have, among the civilian victims, four persons of the Kanak community and it is a possibility that some of those could be related to Christian Karembeu", he said.

Asked on a possibly higher number of fatalities, he stressed the death toll so far remained at seven.

"We have not received any other complaint regarding people shooting civilians", he maintained, while encouraging members of the public who would be aware of other fatal incidents to come forward and contact his office.

Burnt vehicles are seen on a road leading to the capital in Noumea.

Burnt vehicles are seen on a road leading to the capital in Noumea. Photo: AFP / Theo Rouby

Targeted by civilian gunmen

However, on Tuesday, NC la 1ère reported that unidentified Kanak persons spoke out to say that they were directly targeted by gunshots on 15 May while they were at a roadblock held by alleged members of armed self-defence groups in Nouméa's industrial zone of Ducos.

"We arrived in our car, I saw the roadblock, I barely had time to reverse and go back and they started to shoot. About ten times", the unidentified witness said, showing two bullet impacts on his car.

"I have lodged a complaint for murder attempt and now the investigation is ongoing" he said.

Two other Kanaks said the following day, on May 16, while in the streets of their neighbourhood, said at around midnight, they were shot at by balaclava-clad passengers of two driving by pick-up trucks.

"We started to run and that's when we heard the first gunshots. My little brother managed to take shelter at a neighbour's home, and I went on running with the 4WD behind me. When I arrived at my family's home, I jumped into the garden and that's when I heard a second gunshot", he told La 1ère.

"We never thought this would happen to us".

Dupas said another, wider investigation, was underway since 17 May in order to identify "those who are pulling the ropes and who led the "planning and committing of exactions that have hit New Caledonia".

"This means anyone, whatever his/her level of implication, whether order-givers or just actors".

Latest update

The state of emergency was lifted on Tuesday in New Caledonia following an announcement from French President Emmanuel Macron, who was in New Caledonia on a 17-hour visit last Thursday.

The end of the state of emergency was described by Macron as being part of the "commitments" he made while meeting representatives of New Caledonia's pro-independence movement last week and to allow leaders to spread the message to people to lift roadblocks and barricades and "loosen the grip".

However, a dusk-to-dawn (6pm to 6am) curfew remains in place, including a ban of public meetings, the sale of alcohol and the possession and transportation of firearms and ammunition, Le France pointed out on Wednesday.

With an estimated 3500 security forces (police, gendarmes and special riot squads) remaining on the ground , Le Franc said security operations were still underway "to allow a return to calm" in several parts of New Caledonia, including in some neighbourhoods of Nouméa and its surroundings as well as on the key highway linking Nouméa to its international airport of La Tontouta (70 kilometres away).

Schools will remain closed until at least "mid-June".

Normal access to the strategic main hospital Medipôle was also restored, he said, but only for emergencies.

This involves "neutralisation" and "cleaning" operations, he said.

The airport will remain closed to all commercial passenger flights until 2 June.

He said a total of 1630 tourists, both French and foreign nationals, have been flown out of New Caledonia and 430 New Caledonia residents have been able to fly back there.

"80 vehicles are mobilised daily to ensure access roads are unblocked. Over the past 24 hours, 141 car wrecks have been removed".

Taxis have announced they were now resuming service, but bus services remain closed because "too many roads remain impracticable".

Le Franc said since the unrest began on 13 May, a total of 535 persons have been arrested, 136 security forces (police and gendarmes) had been injured and the death toll remained at seven (including two gendarmes, four indigenous Kanaks and one person of European ascent).