NEW CLASH BETWEEN SETTLERS, KANAKS IN NEW CALEDONIA

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SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, June 26) - Fresh violence has erupted
again in the village of Saint Louis, in the suburbs of New Caledonia's capital
Nouméa, between indigenous Kanaks and a group of settlers from Wallis and
Futuna, Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

French police have once again had to step in and cordon off the
area, which has been the scene of violent clashes in the past sixteen months.

Three people have been killed.

A truce had been fostered earlier this year, under the auspices
of the French High Commission in Nouméa.

It involved a resettlement plan for the Wallis and Futuna
population still living in the catholic mission of Ave Maria, near Saint Louis,
a 23-hectare piece of land that Kanaks are now claiming back.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kanak and Wallisian youths clashed, some
of them armed, other throwing stones.

One traditional hut and a French police four-wheel-drive armored
vehicle were burnt down.

A nun and one French gendarme were injured and have been
hospitalized.

It is reported about a hundred gunshots were fired within the
few hours the clash lasted.

Police had to resort to tear gas to disperse the crowd and put a
stop to the violence, in a district known for the past year as a no-go zone.

An uneasy calm was reported to have settled late in the evening
of Wednesday.

The burning of the traditional hut seemed to have sparked a
retaliatory action from a Kanak group.

The hut belonged to Livio Gnibekan, a Kanak, who was convicted
in November last year for gunning down another Kanak.

A court in Nouméa ruled the young Kanak's death was
"accidental".

In October last year, French gendarmes had dismantled the three
posts they had established late 2001 in troubled Saint-Louis and relocated
troops, armored vehicles and equipment into the nearby Catholic mission.

Until then, three surveillance posts were located near the main
road leading to the capital Nouméa and close to the Ave Maria ethnic Wallisian
settlement.

The French army said they were "regrouping" in order
to be "more efficient" in a bid to act as a buffer between ethnic
Kanak dwellers (in Saint Louis) and the Wallisians.

But the move has caused grave concerns within the Wallisian
community.

"We're all worried about our security. We saw the mobiles
leave, we just don't know what's going on", Ave Maria family association
spokeswoman Malia Lié said at the time.

The new set-up, manned by some 70 gendarmes and close to a dozen
of armored vehicles, now only consists of one post, near Saint Louis village, in
the other mission.

"The patrols still remain, gendarmes are occupying the area
exactly the same way as before", deputy operations commander, Lieutenant
Colonel Michel Gotah said.

He justified the move, saying it was "getting more and more
difficult to leave difficult to gendarmes disseminated like before".

Since December 2001, regular gunfights have occurred in the
area, claiming the lives of three men (including two Kanaks and one Futunian).

A French policeman was also seriously wounded.

A group of indigenous Kanaks is demanding that a 1000-strong
community from Wallis and Futuna leave the neighboring Ave Maria Catholic
mission, where they began settling in the 1960s.

Many of the Wallisians, who feared for their lives, have left
the Ave Maria in the past few months and re-settled elsewhere in the Nouméa
suburbs.

New Caledonia's Wallisian and Futunian communities are all
originally from the other French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna Islands
(Northeast of Fiji), which is home to about 15,000.

The Wallisian community in New Caledonia (populated by around
200,000) is estimated at around twenty thousand.

Kanaks claim the disputed 23-hectare land on which the Catholic
mission of Ave Maria is erected and that was originally given to the Catholic
Church

June 27, 2003

Oceania Flash: E-mail/Courriel: padec@iname.com 

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