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French prosecutor in New Caledonia says authorities are investigating suspects behind deadly unrest


NICE, France — The French prosecutor in New Caledonia said authorities have opened an investigation into unrest that has left seven people dead and significant destruction in the Pacific archipelago with decades of tensions between those seeking independence and those loyal to France.

The violence flared on May 13 in response to attempts to amend the French Constitution and change voting lists in New Caledonia. France declared a state of emergency in its Pacific territory on May 15 and rushed hundreds of troop reinforcements to help police quell the revolt that included shootings, clashes, looting and arson.

“We are interested in those who pull the strings, who have led the planning and have committed these abuses in New Caledonia,” prosecutor Yves Dupas said late Tuesday in an interview with broadcaster France Info. He added that investigators are interested in anyone on the island “whatever their level of involvement or responsibility” in the unrest, whether they are “perpetrators or their sponsors.”

He said officials were looking into charges of criminal association, criminal acts and misdemeanours.

Authorities are also investigating those suspected of violence against civilians caught up in the unrest, Dupas said. He said that several New Caledonia police officers are in custody.

The seven people killed in shootings included four from the Indigenous Kanak community and two gendarmes, Dupas said. One of the gendarmes was killed when a weapon discharged accidentally, according to the French Interior Ministry.

The prosecutor said he was unaware if any of those killed in the unrest are related to the former French soccer player Christian Karembeu, who said on Monday that he was “in mourning” because two members of his family were fatally shot during recent violence.

Karembeu, who is Kanak and had moved to mainland France as a teenager, was asked in an interview with France’s Europe 1 broadcaster if his relatives were targeted in recent violence. The 1998 World Cup winner with France said, “It’s true that, yes, it’s an assassination and we hope that there will be inquiries and investigations into these murders.”

Dupas said that four people from the Kanak community were among civilian victims. “It’s possible, but I cannot confirm it, that some are relatives of Christian Karembeu.” He also said that his office has so far not received any complaints from civilian victims’ families.

Since May 12, 442 people have been detained in New Caledonia, Dupas said. Of those, 90 have been referred to court, he said.

Detainees who had been held at the French penitentiary compound in New Caledonia’s capital, Nouméa, known as Camp Est, were transferred to the detention center in Koné in the archipelago’s north and others were sent to facilities in mainland France, Dupas said.

French President Emmanuel Macron decided on Monday to lift the state of emergency in New Caledonia to help facilitate dialogue between local parties and French authorities for the future of the archipelago with a population of 270,000 and restore peace.

Pro-independence parties and Kanak leaders urged Macron to withdraw the electoral reform bill if France wants to “end the crisis.” Opponents fear the voting legislation will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalize the Indigenous Kanaks who have long pushed to be free of French rule, amid sharp economic disparities.

New Caledonia became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon’s nephew and heir. It became an overseas territory after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957.

People of European, mostly French, descent in New Caledonia, which has long served as France’s prison colony and now has a French military base, distinguish between descendants of colonizers and descendants of the many prisoners sent to the territory by force.

The Pacific island east of Australia that is 10 time zones ahead of Paris is known to tourists for its UNESCO World Heritage atolls and reefs. Tensions have simmered for decades between the Indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and colonizers’ descendants and other white settlers who want it to remain part of France.



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