New Caledonia: Australia and New Zealand send evacuation flights amid unrest

New Caledonia: Australia and New Zealand send evacuation flights amid unrest

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, New Caledonia has been witnessing riots since lawmakers in France passed reforms to give tens of thousands of non-indigenous people voting rights in the Pacific territory.

  • author, Simon Atkinson
  • Role, BBC News, in Brisbane

Australia and New Zealand said they had received permission to send planes to New Caledonia to pick up stranded passengers after unrest forced the closure of the international airport.

Australia is deploying two planes on Tuesday to evacuate about 300 of its citizens who have registered for assistance in French territory in the Pacific Ocean.

The government in Wellington said the first of a “series” of proposed flights would also leave New Zealand and bring about 50 people home.

The unrest began last week after lawmakers in Paris voted on changes that will allow more French residents to vote in local elections, a move indigenous leaders say will weaken indigenous political influence.

Four civilians, including at least three Kanak indigenous people, were killed in the riot along with two police officers.

Dozens have been injured and more than 200 people have been arrested so far.

Both Australia and New Zealand said they would prioritize transporting people with “most urgent needs”, with passenger lists organized by consular staff.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said tourists from “other countries” would also be helped.

In addition to fires and looting, holidaymakers who have been stranded for more than a week have reported food shortages.

About 290 New Zealanders are believed to be in New Caledonia.

Australian tourist Maxwell Winchester told AFP that he and his wife Tiffany were “happy” at the prospect of returning home after being detained at a resort near Noumea for more than a week.

“We realize that we probably won’t be taking these flights because people with higher needs will be taking them, but at least we know we have a way out in the next few days,” he added.

The French High Commission in New Caledonia says French gendarmerie trying to regain control of the 60-kilometre (37-mile) road between Noumea and Latontota International Airport have “neutralized” 76 roadblocks and are now removing debris such as burned-out vehicles.

The Australian Government’s travel advice has warned people against trying to reach the airport on their own, saying the route is “not yet considered safe”.

The local government said the airport remains closed to commercial flights, and the decision on when to reopen it will be re-evaluated on Thursday.

It is estimated that about 3,200 people are waiting to leave or enter New Caledonia.

The French High Commission in New Caledonia said on Tuesday that France had sent by air 1,050 additional police officers to enhance security in the territory, with 600 additional reinforcements arriving β€œin the coming hours.”

She added that the army was deployed to protect public buildings.

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the army would need to remain deployed in New Caledonia “for some time.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *