By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, Sept. 4) - Ethnic Wallisians and Futunians, who have been evicted from the village of Saint Louis near New Caledonia's capital of Nouméa have hired a lawyer to defend what they claim is "ethnic cleansing" at work in the French Pacific territory.

On August 25, over 200 French police in New Caledonia, using two helicopters and several dozens trucks and armored vehicles, and acting on a court warrant, conducted a dawn raid in the troubled village near the capital Nouméa.

Saint Louis has been the scene of ethnic violence between indigenous Kanaks and a settlement of Wallis and Futuna islanders.

Four men were arrested and later released.

Police seized over a dozen weapons, and some 500 rounds of ammunition, some of which high-caliber. Half a dozen of the weapons were identified as stolen.

Since December 2001, three people have been killed and several others seriously injured.

Since last week's dawn raid, police have cordoned off the area, barring anyone to either enter or exit the Catholic mission of Ave Maria in a bid to install a buffer zone between rival communities.

Police also say they fear snipers could again shoot someone.

The evicted families' lawyer, Frederic de Greslan, told local media on Wednesday that his clients were in effect denied rights enshrined in the French constitution.

"Those who were not there on that day (August 25), including children who were at school, could not come back to Ave Maria. And those who were there cannot leave", he said. "So now, in effect, we're dealing with evicted people who are now homeless and without shelter".

De Greslan said the French State has failed to provide guarantees for human civil liberties and rights, including safety, law and order, freedom of circulation of persons and goods.

"The only thing authorities are doing t the moment is to offer to relocate these people, but here again, there is no guarantee", he said.

Ethnic Wallisians Violetta Siulu told Télé-Nouvelle-Calédonie Wallisians in Saint Louis' Ave Maria settlement were prepared to leave, provided everyone leaves together and that this is done under "acceptable conditions".

"Also, they're telling us one day there are 60 housings available, then at the next meeting that there are only 30, and now they even say there is only available room for 5 families. I think they're leading us on", she said.

Near Saint Louis, the Catholic mission of Ave Maria was once home to some 170 families (about a thousand persons) originally from Wallis and Futuna islands, another French territory located Northeast of Fiji.

The Wallisians settled there over forty years ago.

Only about thirty families remain in the Ave Maria.

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 last week, tension remains high in Saint Louis, with both local traditional chiefs and authorities fearing another upsurge of violence.

After the police raid last week, the situation has remained tense in Saint Louis and further exchanges of gunshots have occurred, forcing once again police to step in with tear gas.

Saint Louis' traditional chiefs have expressed anger and frustration, because they were kept in the dark about the project, although they had given their personal guarantee to their people that such an operation would never take place.

Young members of the indigenous community now call this "a provocation" that aims to push them into"logic of 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 youth that 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 raid has now undermined their traditional authority.

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 in and around Nouméa.

De Greslan said Wednesday the whole situation was tantamount to "a looming ethnic cleansing" and "a slap in the face" of New Caledonia's Nouméa accord.

The document was signed five years ago between the French government, pro-independence party FLNKS and anti-independence RPCR.

It makes numerous references to New Caledonia's multi-ethnic community (indigenous Kanaks, Europeans, Wallisians, Futunians, Vietnamese, and Indonesians), with a stress on the need for everyone to work towards a "common destiny".

September 4, 2003

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


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