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June 20, 2024, 1:30 pm
Regional, World

Pro-independence militant leaders arrested in New Caledonia

Fiji One News Team
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New Caledonia’s security forces have arrested eight people believed to be involved in the organisation of pro independence-related riots that broke out on 13 May.

The eight include leaders of the so-called Field Action Coordinating Cell (CCAT), a group that was set up by the Union Calédonienne (UC), one of the more radical parties making up the FLNKS (Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front) platform.

The large-scale dawn operation, mainly conducted by gendarmes at CCAT’s headquarters in downtown Nouméa’s Magenta district, as well as suburban Mont-Dore, is said to be part of a judicial preliminary inquiry involving the French anti-terrorist division.

The whole area had been cordoned off for the duration of the operation.

Public Prosecutor Yves Dupas said in a release this inquiry was launched on 17 May.

“It includes potential charges of conspiracy in order to prepare the commission of a crime; organised destruction of goods and property by arson; complicity by way of incitement of crimes and murders or murder attempts on officers entrusted with public authority; and participation in a grouping formed with the aim of preparing acts of violence on persons and property.”

Dupas said because some of the charges included organised crime, the arrested individuals could be kept in custody for up to 96 hours.

CCAT leader Christian Téin was one of the eight arrested leaders.

CCAT leader Christian Tein is one of the eight arrested on Wednesday. Photo: NC la 1ère

Dupas said the arrested have been notified of their fundamental rights, including the right to be assisted by a lawyer, the right to undergo a medical examination, and the right to remain silent during subsequent auditions.

“Investigators and the public prosecution intend to conduct this phase of the enquiry with all the necessary objectivity and impartiality – with the essential objective being the manifestation of truth,” Dupas said.

Dupas pointed out other similar operations were also carried out on Wednesday, including at the headquarters of USTKE union, one of the major components of CCAT.

The arrests come five weeks after pro-independence protests – against a proposed change to the rules of eligibility of voters at local elections – degenerated into violence, looting and arson.

Current estimates are that over 600 businesses, and about 200 private residences were destroyed, causing over 7,000 employees to lose their jobs for a total financial damage figure of over one billion Euros.

The unrest is believed to be the worst since a quasi civil war erupted in New Caledonia during the second half of the 1980s.

Immediate reactions

Pro-independence party Union Calédonienne swiftly reacted to the arrests on Wednesday by calling on “all of CCAT’s relays and our young people to stay calm and not to respond to provocation, whether on the ground or on social networks”.

UC, in a release, said it “denounces” the “abusive arrests” of the CCAT leaders.

“The French State is persisting in its intimidation manoeuvres. Those arrests were predictable,” UC stated, and also demanded “immediate explanations”.

UC President Daniel Goa is also calling on the removal of the France’s representative in New Caledonia, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc.

Pro-France Les Loyalistes party leader, and New Caledonia’s Southern province President, Sonia Backès, also reacted, but in the opposite direction, when she wrote “about time” on social networks.

Another pro-France politician from the same party, Nicolas Metzdorf, recalled that those arrests “were the sine qua non prerequisite to a resumption of talks regarding the future of New Caledonia”.

“But all is not settled; the restoration of law and order, even though it now seems feasible, must continue to intensify.”

At the weekend, a Congress of the FLNKS was postponed, due to persisting differences between the pro-independence umbrella’s components, and the fact that UC had brought several hundred CCAT members to the conference, which local organisers and moderate FLNKS parties perceived as a “security risk”.