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New Caledonia Violence 'Unfortunate', But Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-general Is 'Not Surprised'

The outgoing secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum is "not surprised" with the violent unrest in New Caledonia which has shut down the country.

New Caledonia has come to a virutal stop after two days of civil unrest, resulting in burning, shooting and looting, as leaders call for calm.

French police reinforcements have arrived in Nouméa, with reports of dozens of arrests being made.

New Caledonia's President, pro-independence leader Louis Mapou, has condemed the actions of the people involved, saying "anger cannot justify harming or destroying public property, production tools, all of which this country has taken decades to build".

Henry Puna, speaking to journalists in his final news conference as the region's top diplomat from Rarotonga, told journalists that "to see the collapse [and], protesting is very unfortunate", but it was predictable.

He said the issue "has been boiling" since the 2021 independence referendum in the French territory, the third and final vote under the Nouméa Accord, which was boycotted by the pro-indigenous Kanak population.

He said he was there in December 2021 to monitor the independence referendum when it was taken and "it was unfortunate that it was allowed to go ahead during that time".

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"We were in the middle of [the] Covid [pandemic] and the Kanak custom is that when somebody passes the mourn that for one year. So they weren't allowed that freedom.

"As a result, they didn't want to take part in the referendum because they couldn't go against their tradition and go campaigning or do other work. That's disrespectful for the custom."

Puna said the Nouméa Accord all the processes, and the steps leading to that referendum, had been set and agreed to by all parties and if that had been followed right through, the referendum would not have been held then but in September 2022.

"To see the collapse [and] protesting is very unfortunate because it does raise some issues that needs to be resolved. But I think it can be resolved in the wisdom of our leaders at this time.

"That's something that we really need to talk about openly and honestly. What the causes of the problem are, and what the solutions be.

'Recognise greater autonomy' - Mark Brown

The outgoing chair of the Forum and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said greater autonomy for the indigenous Kanak population is needed.

Brown said Pacific peoples value sovereignty and the protests are in response to that.

He says many forum members are former colonies.

"If there's one thing that specific countries value, it is the sovereignty and independence. To be able to have control over the destiny of your own country," he said.

New Caledonia, French Polynesia are new entrants into the Forum and this is in recognition of their calls they have made for greater autonomy coming from their people.

"My initial view of the unrest that's occurring in Caledonia, it is cause to recognise greater autonomy and greater independence from the people on those islands.

"As a member of the Forum now, we will be able to provide support assistance to these member countries as to the best way forward without trying to try to avoid any escalation of conflict."

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