New Caledonia: Australia and New Zealand send planes to evacuate nationals from unrest

A Kanak flag next to a burning vehicle at an independantist roadblock at La Tamoa (AFP via Getty Images)
A Kanak flag next to a burning vehicle at an independantist roadblock at La Tamoa (AFP via Getty Images)

Australia and New Zealand are sending planes to evacuate their nationals from New Caledonia amid violent unrest, their governments have announced.

Australia had received clearance from French authorities for two flights to evacuate citizens and other tourists from the French Pacific nation.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said 300 Australians were in New Caledonia.

"We continue to work on further flights," Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

At least six people have died and hundreds more have been injured since violence erupted last week after a bill was passed allowing more French residents to cast ballots in provincial elections.

Indigenous people have long sought independence from France.

Some 270 rioters had been arrested, and a 6pm-6am curfew was in force for the archipelago of about 270,000 people.

New Zealand also announced it was sending a plane to evacuate 50 of its nationals from Noumea, the Pacific island's capital.

It will be the first in a series of proposed flights to bring its citizens home.

"Our number one priority is the safety and wellbeing of kiwis trapped in New Caledonia and to get them home safe," Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said.

“This will be the first of multiple trips to get kiwis home.”

France has sent in more than 1,000 security personnel, with hundreds more due to arrive as it tries to quell the unrest and restore control.

It follows decades of tension between indigenous Kanaks seeking independence and descendants of colonisers who want to remain part of France.

The unrest erupted May 13 as the French legislature in Paris debated amending the French constitution to make changes to New Caledonia voter lists.

The National Assembly in Paris approved a bill that would, among other changes, allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to cast ballots in provincial elections.

Opponents fear the measure will benefit pro-France politicians in New Caledonia and further marginalise Kanaks who once suffered from strict segregation policies and widespread discrimination.