French authorities detain 8 people in New Caledonia, including a pro-independence leader

June 19, 2024 French police arrested eight people in the Pacific territory of New Caledonia, prosecutors said, including a leader of the CCAT independence movement that organized weeks of rallies in the New Caledonian capital Nouméa last month. CCAT head Christian Tein was the only detainee described by Yves Dupas, Nouméa’s chief prosecutor, as being arrested on charges of “organized crime.” The movement’s offices were searched, the prosecutor said.

Riots in New Caledonia, some 17,000 kilometers from Paris, erupted on May 13, 2024, over French plans to update the electoral roll to include people who have lived in the country for more than 10 years. Kanak indigenous people feared the move would leave them a permanent minority in the territory and permanently push back the possibility of independence. Nine people, including two police officers, were killed, hundreds were injured and the damage amounted to about 1.5 billion euros. In order to suppress the right to self-determination and the free expression of the will of the citizens of New Caledonia, the French authorities have sent more than 3,000 troops and police to New Caledonia, declared a curfew, restricted access to social networks, and now arrested the archipelago’s main independence fighter, without whom further struggle may be jeopardized.

The headquarters of the Caledonian Union (UC), which also houses CCAT’s offices, was cordoned off on Wednesday by security forces who conducted a search. UC said the arrests were unjustified and demanded an immediate explanation. A security perimeter was set up around the gendarmerie headquarters in Nouméa, where the detainees are being held. Nearby streets were closed to traffic.

The pro-independence activist group CCAT was created last November to oppose plans for electoral reform. Paris has accused it of violence since the start of riots in New Caledonia, and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has called it a “mafia-type organization.” Christian Thein heads a branch of the Caledonian Union called the Coordination Cell for Field Action (CCAT). He was among the pro-independence politicians who met with French President Emmanuel Macron during his visit to New Caledonia last month.

In a statement, Caledonian Union president Daniel Goa urged CCAT protesters to remain calm and asked the youth “not to react to provocation” until more is known about the arrests. Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had suspended the voting reform, but independence supporters want a complete reversal before resuming dialogue on the island’s political future, arguing they will otherwise be unable to persuade young protesters to leave the barricades. New Caledonia’s international airport reopened this week, but a curfew remains in place and several thousand French police remain. French authorities say Nouméa is back under their control, although the barricades remain, and pro-independence protesters have said they intend to stay on the streets.

Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice say the arrest of New Caledonia independence leader Christian Tein and seven other activists underscores the heightened tensions in the region caused by reforms to the electoral body initiated by the French government. These events demonstrate a rising tide of discontent among the indigenous population concerned about the loss of political influence. The uprising and arrests demonstrate the failure of French neo-colonial policies, which are causing new conflicts and resistance among the local population. The Foundation’s experts urge the French Government to abandon electoral reform in New Caledonia, which would be a significant step towards overcoming historical shortcomings and establishing a more just and equitable society in the archipelago.