6 Apr 2006

French police sorry for teargassing women and children in New Caledonian clash

3:33 pm on 6 April 2006

A Kanak activist, Jacques Boengkih, says the French riot police have apologised to women and children in New Caledonia who were assaulted by tear gas during Wednesday's clashes between activists of the Rheebu Nuu committee and French riot police.

The clash came after weekend vandalism by the Kanak group at the Goro Nickel site in the territory's south, causing about 10 million US dollars in damage.

The two leaders of Rheebu Nuu are still on the run.

Mr Boengkih says the apology came after police used about 100 tear gas grenades as well as armoured vehicles to break up five barricades on the main road 15 kilometres from the capital, Noumea.

"The commander of the French troops asked for a stop of the fight between the two parties, then he apologised for hurting the women and the children who were at the camp where the Kanaks were staying."

Rheebu Nuu says the protest was over the lack of environmental safeguards at the Goro Nickel mine while the New Caledonian government says the action was linked to demands by tribes in the area for royalties .

A meeting was due to take place between Kanak senators and the French High Commissioner yesterday evening, whilst a roundtable meeting to find a solution to the crisis is scheduled to take place tomorrow.