New Caledonia Flag

New Caledonia Travel Guide

The Ouvéa Affair

In September 1986, a French examining magistrate named Semur ordered the release of the seven self-confessed killers of the 10 Kanaks murdered at Hienghène in December 1984 because they had acted in "self defense." This provoked an international furor, and on November 20 an appeal court ruled that the seven men had to stand trial. This took place in Nouméa in October 1987, and a jury of eight whites and one Indonesian deliberated over dinner for two hours before acquitting the defendants in a major travesty of justice.

From its founding in 1984, the FLNKS had preached nonviolence (although some of their supporters were not aloof from it). This policy seemed to have failed, so just prior to the April 24, 1988, elections for the four redistributed regions the FLNKS declared a "muscular mobilization" to accompany their election boycott. Throughout the territory, Kanaks erected roadblocks and fired on police who attempted to remove them. A general uprising was planned, but at dawn on April 22 a commando of 40 Kanaks acted prematurely and captured the gendarmerie at Fayaoué on Ouvéa in the Loyalty Islands, killing four police and capturing another 27. Sixteen of the prisoners were taken to a cave near the north end of the island and held hostage. Forewarned, every other gendarmerie in the territory went on alert.

On May 4, 1988, just three days prior to the French presidential elections, Chirac ordered an assault on the cave to garner right-wing support for his election campaign against Mitterrand. During "Operation Victor" at 0600 the next morning, 300 elite counterinsurgency troops attacked the cave, massacring 19 Kanaks and freeing the hostages unharmed, for a loss of two of the assaulting force. Kidnap leader, Kanyiapa Dianou (1959-1988), a former student priest, was beaten to death by the troops as he lay wounded on a stretcher, and six other Kanaks were executed by the French troops after they surrendered. There were no Kanak survivors—their bullet-ridden bodies were unrecognizable. Other Ouvéa residents were tortured by the French secret service agents, and 33 prisoners were deported to France. The soldiers who carried out these atrocities have never been brought to justice.

Continue to   History: The Matignon Accords   »