Australia and New Zealand evacuate scores of citizens from New Caledonia

22 May 2024, 06:44

Australia New Caledonia
Australia New Caledonia. Picture: PA

Six people have been killed during recent armed clashes, looting and arson in the French Pacific territory.

The Australian military has flown 115 passengers on two flights from the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia and a French government flight was expected to evacuate another 100 stranded passengers on Wednesday, an Australian government minister said.

Six people have been killed, including two police officers, and hundreds have been injured during recent armed clashes, looting and arson in New Caledonia.

The unrest erupted on May 13 as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French Constitution to make changes to New Caledonia voter lists.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalise Kanaks, who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.

France New Caledonia Unrest
French Army embarking a plane to New Caledonia at the Istres military base, southern France (Etat Major des Armees via AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to land on Thursday in New Caledonia, where Indigenous people have long sought independence. The unrest has raised new questions about Mr Macron’s handling of France’s colonial legacy.

Australian Pacific minister Pat Conroy said 84 of the passengers who were flown on two Royal Australian Airforce C-130 Hercules late on Tuesday from the capital Noumea to the Australian east coast city of Brisbane were Australian citizens.

Mr Conroy did not say what nationalities were among the remaining 31 passengers. But he said Australia had reciprocal arrangements with Canada and Japan to help their citizens in crises.

More than 200 other Australians were registered with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs to leave the South Pacific territory, where a 12-day state of emergency has been declared.

“We’ve prioritised the elderly, the pregnant and the most vulnerable,” Mr Conroy told Nine Network television.

“We’ll continue to work with the French government to make sure we get every Australian out of New Caledonia who does want to leave,” Mr Conroy added.

Mr Conroy said he had been advised France was planning more flights to Brisbane on Wednesday.

“The French have indicated they intend to continue repatriating foreign nationals, particularly tourists, so the primary plan is more French flights, but … we do have contingency plans, and we do have planes on standby should there be an issue with that course of action,” Mr Conroy later told the ABC.

“A French plane is expected to leave for Brisbane this afternoon or this evening and we expect around 100 Australians to be on it,” Mr Conroy added.

A New Zealand Defence Force C-130 Hercules flew 48 passengers “with the most pressing needs” from Noumea to the New Zealand city of Auckland on Tuesday night, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

New Caledonia Unrest
A street in Noumea, New Caledonia, is pictured after unrest (Nicolas Job/AP)

A French-operated flight would bring stranded New Zealanders home via Brisbane later on Wednesday, the statement said. The New Zealand military would fly the Brisbane-Auckland leg. Around 265 New Zealanders wanted to leave New Caledonia.

The road to New Caledonia’s international airport remained closed on Wednesday.

By Press Association

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