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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Aug. 27) - High chiefs in
New Caledonia's Kanak village of Saint Louis near the capital Nouméa have
expressed anger and frustration with French authorities after French police and
special forces on Monday stormed their village to arrest prime suspects in
earlier murder cases, Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie reports.

In a dawn raid on Monday, over 200 French police and special
forces, acting on a court warrant, stormed into the troubled village, arrested
10 people, and confiscated about a dozen weapons.

Two helicopters, ten armored vehicles and a couple of dozens
trucks from the French army were also used in the raid, which is perceived as
unprecedented deployment of force against Saint Louis dwellers.

Until now, police interventions in the area only aimed at
cordoning it off.

Saint Louis itself was regarded as a no-go zone for law

But Monday's intervention has triggered swift reaction from the
local Kanak community: Police were welcomed by stone-throwers and two Gendarmes
were injured.

Three houses were also burned down.

Young members of the indigenous community call this "a
provocation" that aims to push them into violence, whereas the
understanding was that a truce should be observed until all Wallisians and
Futunians leave the Ave Maria.

"We're very worried now this has happened. Because we'd
always told our youths police would never come here and that there would be no
raid. But now that this has happened, I don't think we are in a position to
control them any longer," Robert Moyatea, one of Saint Louis' prominent
chiefs, said.

Moyatea said in spite of assurances they gave to their
community, the police intervention has now undermined their traditional

Since December 2001, Saint Louis has been the scene of violent
ethnic confrontations between Kanak and Wallis and Futuna ethnic groups.

The Wallisians resided near Saint Louis, in the Ave Maria
Catholic mission, where they arrived over forty years ago from these islands
located Northeast of Fiji.

Since December 2001, snipers have killed three people.

It is now believed that out of the several thousands of
Wallisians and Futunians (about 170 families) who once lived in Ave Maria,
only about thirty families remain there.

There are now fears about their safety: this week, Kanaks from
Saint Louis have erected fences around Ave Maria to prevent them from going in
our out.

The rest has moved out of the area some weeks ago and are
currently being re-housed in and around Nouméa.

Indigenous Kanaks in Saint Louis are demanding that the 23
hectares of land (on which the Catholic Ave Maria mission is located) be given
back to them.

Since Monday, the situation has remained tense in Saint Louis
and further exchanges of gunshots took place on Monday night, forcing once again
police to step in.

Out of the 170 families who once lived in Ave Maria, close to a
hundred have now been re-located under existing social housing schemes.

Earlier this month, there were also reports of re-located
Wallisians being victimised and their new home targeted by stonethrowers in the
Rivière Salée (Saltwater river) district of Nouméa.

August 27, 2003

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