New Caledonia independence activists sent to France for detention

Pro-independence leader Christian Tein among seven flown to the mainland after last month’s large-scale riots.

Christian Tein, head of the CCAT
Christian Tein, head of the pro-independence group CCAT, was charged on Saturday [File: Delphine Mayeur/AFP]

Seven independence activists linked to a group accused of orchestrating riots last month in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia have been sent to mainland France for pre-trial detention, according to the local prosecutor.

“This transfer was organised during the night by means of a plane specially chartered for the mission,” Yves Dupas, the public prosecutor in the territory’s capital, Noumea, said in a statement on Sunday.

The seven were sent to France, he added, “due to the sensitivity of the procedure and in order to allow the investigations to continue in a calm manner, free of any pressure”.

Among the seven detainees was Christian Tein, head of the pro-independence group Field Action Coordination Cell (CCAT), who has been in custody and was charged on Saturday over the recent violence in which nine people died, including two police.

Hundreds of people were wounded and damage estimated at $1.6bn was inflicted during the unrest over controversial voting reforms.

Charges not announced

Authorities did not immediately specify what charges Tein faces, but Dupas said his investigation covered armed robbery and complicity in murder or attempted murder, according to French daily Le Monde.

Tein’s lawyer Pierre Ortent said on Saturday he was “stupefied” that his client was being sent to France, accusing magistrates of “answering to purely political considerations”.

“No one had any idea in advance that they would be sent to mainland France. These are totally exceptional steps” for New Caledonia, Ortent said.

Stephane Bonomo, lawyer for another detainee, Gilles Joredie, said the prosecutors’ actions were creating “martyrs for the independence cause”, according to Le Monde.

CCAT group’s communications chief Brenda Wanabo was also one of the suspects sent to almost 17,000km (10,563 miles) away, to France, Le Monde added.

Riots, street barricades and looting broke out in New Caledonia in May over an electoral reform that would have allowed long-term residents to participate in local polls. Paris deployed troops to the territory in response.

The archipelago’s Indigenous Kanaks feared the move would dilute their vote, putting hopes for eventually winning independence definitively out of reach.

France’s government repeatedly accused Tein’s CCAT of orchestrating the violence, a charge the organisation has denied.

Source: News Agencies