GUNSHOTS, VIOLENCE FLARE IN NEW CALEDONIA CLASH

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, July 1) - Three Wallisians, a French gendarme and a nun have been injured in new clashes between indigenous Kanaks and islanders from Wallis and Futuna in the village of Saint Louis, near Nouméa, Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reports.

Residents reportedly are evacuating the area, once home to 200 Wallis and Futuna families.

One of the five injured, a young Kanak man, received serious bullet wounds on Monday. His condition was said to be stable.

Police and French gendarmes have on several occasions been shot at by unidentified snipers hiding in nearby bushes, resulting in armored police vehicles being permanently posted in the troubled area.

Two houses have also burned down in Saint Louis in this bout of clashes  and the law enforcers have once again cordoned off the whole area, sometimes using teargas to disperse crowds.

Conflict in the Saint Louis area began in late 2001 when a group of Kanaks claimed ownership the 23 hectares on which is a Catholic mission, Ave Maria.

Since the 1960s, New Caledonia has become home to 20,000 Wallis and Futuna islanders, with the Ave Maria mission one of their major settlements but the recent conflict has left about 60 families in area, many of them contemplating relocation.

Mothers say they fear for the security and lives of their children.

"All we want now is to get out of here. There are gunshots every day, the children are crying, they say they're afraid", Soana, a young mother, told RFO.

Many families have since been temporarily re-located in a public sports hall in nearby Boulari.

Last year three people were killed in multiple clashes between the two ethnic groups in Saint Louis and this new bout of violence has prompted the French High Commission in New Caledonia to mediate between rival parties.

Since last week, several meetings were held between the High Commission and the rival parties High Commissioner Daniel Constantin said he still believed it was possible for the unrest to ease down.

"A peace that is bearable to everyone has prevailed for the past seven months, law enforcers will stay there as long as needed"... I have not lost hope that peace returns", he said.

One of the latest resolutions announced by the French High Commission, was that the families remaining in Ave Maria and those currently camping in the Boulari gymnasium would be relocated "within the next five weeks".

New Caledonia's Southern Province is offering land plots and houses in Dumbéa (North of Nouméa), which until now were part of the French Pacific territory's social housing scheme.

The scheme would also arrange loans for the new dwellers to enable them to buy the plots, while residences would be taken care of by France.

Some families, who were asking whether they could hope to be compensated for the loss of their property in Ave Maria, were told that if they took the relocation option, they would have to write-off their houses in Ave Maria.

"The French government will not be able to pay for houses that are impossible to sell on the market. You'll have to choose between a compensation sum and the land and house offer", French High Commission's representative for the Southern Province, Philippe Malizard, said.

July 2, 2003

Oceania Flash: E-mail/Courriel: [email protected] 

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