New Zealanders in New Caledonia unsure if Macron’s visit will help or worsen tensions

Two New Zealanders in New Caledonia are unsure whether the French president’s arrival in the country will help ease the tension – or exacerbate it.

Emmanuel Macron landed in Nouméa on Thursday morning, amidst deadly protests over the proposal of a controversial voting law change.

New Zealander Emma Roylands teaches English in the country and said everyone was “anxiously” waiting to see how his appearance would be received.

“I’m really of two minds because I think it should help, the fact that he’s now here to talk in person and try work this over politically. But I also wonder if people will take it like maybe a motive to kind of keep protesting, because now they’ve got the president in the audience,” she said.

“Some [locals] are a little bit proud, saying look we’ve managed to get a message across and it’s brought the President of France, of the French Republic, to little old New Caledonia. Like it’s a sign that their message has been heard.”

The situation this week seemed calmer than last, Roylands said, with fewer explosions and gunshots and less smoke visible across the city. The university campus where she lived had distributed frozen meals – an upgrade from the snack foods of last week – but access to medication was becoming an increasing problem. Meanwhile, incorrect reports and rumours were circulating and further confusing the situation, she said.

This photograph shows a Kanak flag waving next to a burning vehicle at an independantist roadblock at La Tamoa, in the commune of Paita, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia on May 19, 2024. French forces smashed through about 60 road blocks to clear the way from conflict-stricken New Caledonia's capital to the airport but have still not reopened the route, a top government official said on May 19, 2024. (Photo by Delphine Mayeur / AFP)

Another New Zealander, Barbara Graham said she received an email from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Wednesday night, advising the government had not been given permission to run evacuation flights on Thursday.

“I believe that’s to do with the visit of Macron, the French president, possibly to do with the fact that they need to redistribute the army and police forces here to secure his visit rather than allowing for more assisted departures,” she said.

“It’s bad news for me, of course … it’s another day, more uncertainty, and there’s been a lot of that.

“If it does help the unrest here and kind of help to start to mend those relations between people then that’s a really good thing, and I can put aside my own disappointment for that kind of positive outcome.”

However, Graham was also unsure whether the president’s arrival would be enough to resolve the conflict.

“I’m not super optimistic about it. I feel like he possibly can’t tell the Kanak people what they want to hear … but I could be wrong about that. I mean, I don’t really know all the particulars and I don’t know what he’s going to say today. It all kind of depends on how he conducts that dialogue with people,” she said.

“I just do possibly wonder about the timing of things from him, given that it’s kind of stopped these other operations being able to happen.”

Graham was concerned some previously secured areas could become unsafe again, if security and gendarme forces were reassigned to protect Macron instead. And while his visit was expected to be a brief 24-hours, some feared a ripple-effect could mean flights continued to be grounded after his departure, she said.

The ministry’s email advised of a possible flight leaving on Friday, but said this was not confirmed.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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