Daily Review: The Roots of Unrest in New Caledonia

Daily Review: The Roots of Unrest in New Caledonia
French President Emmanuel Macron is welcomed at the airport on Ouvea Island, New Caledonia, May 5, 2018 (AP photo by Theo Rouby).

France declared a state of emergency in the overseas territory of New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, after overnight riots left three people dead. Unrest in the capital, Noumea, began Monday ahead of a vote in the French Parliament to change voter eligibility in the territory. The vote passed yesterday, but President Emmanuel Macron said he would seek a negotiated agreement with representatives from the territory before signing it into law. (The Guardian)

Our Take

To understand the current unrest in New Caledonia, it’s important to understand its historical roots, which stretch back decades. The independence movement, most prevalent among the territory’s Indigenous Kanak people, escalated into recurring conflict with French authorities for much of the 1980s. That violence came to a head during the Ouvea cave hostage crisis in 1987, when pro-independence militants took dozens of police officers hostage. In response, French authorities killed 19 of the hostage-takers.

The hostage crisis led to negotiations between New Caledonia’s pro- and anti-independence groups, which both agreed to a 10-year period of peace and development. That period culminated in the 1998 Noumea Accord, in which the French government agreed to give the territory more autonomy and allow for up to three independence referendums. Importantly, the accord also restricted voting only to people who had resided in New Caledonia prior to 1998 and their children, a move designed to give greater representation to the Indigenous Kanaks.

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