7 May 2018

Macron visits Ouvea on anniversary of defining hostage crisis

5:27 am on 7 May 2018

The French president Emmanuel Macron has visited the island of Ouvea on the 30th anniversary of the bloody end of the 1988 hostage crisis.

Facing opposition by some Kanak families, the president altered today's programme and refrained from laying a wreath at the grave of the 19 Kanaks killed by the French security forces.

French President Emmanuel Macron takes part in a ceremony on the New Caledonia island of Ouvea. His visit to the island, the scene of a 1988 hostage crisis, was contentious.

French President Emmanuel Macron takes part in a ceremony on the New Caledonia island of Ouvea. His visit to the island, the scene of a 1988 hostage crisis, was contentious. Photo: AFP

Mr Macron is the first French president to visit Ouvea but members of one tribe warned that his presence on the anniversary was unwanted and would be seen as a provocation.

Instead, he took part in a ceremony at the site, planting a coconut tree.

He said to forget the events would be another wound for the mourning families.

Earlier in the day, he paid tribute at the tomb of the French security forces killed during the hostage drama.

Mr Macron then also went to the grave of the two Kanak leaders, Jean-Marie Tjibaou and Yeiwene Yeiwene, who were killed on 4 May 1989.

French President Emmanuel Macron walks with Marie Claude Tjibaou, the widow of Jean Marie Tjibaou, the Kanak separatist leader who was killed in 1988.

French President Emmanuel Macron walks with Marie Claude Tjibaou, the widow of Jean Marie Tjibaou, the Kanak separatist leader who was killed in 1989. Photo: AFP

Security was tight, with police blocking an access road and checking travellers amid concern over possible disturbances.

The two-week hostage crisis in 1988 was a turning point in the separatist campaign of the indigenous Kanaks because it ushered in reconciliation talks which led to the Matignon Accord.

The Accord and its subsequent Noumea Accord allowed for the creation of a power-sharing collegial government and the phased and irreversible transfer of power from France to New Caledonia.

The Kanak independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, who was killed on the New Caledonia island of Ouvea in 1988.

The Kanak independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, who was killed on the New Caledonia island of Ouvea in 1989. Photo: AFP or licensors

The Accord expires this year with a referendum on 4 November on whether New Caledonians want to attain sovereignty and assume the remaining powers, such as defence, judiciary, policing and monetary policy.

The Ouvea hostage crisis, which also claimed the life of six French gendarmes, has remained a sensitive issue.

A feature film based on the events, which happened to coincide with the French presidential race between Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac, could not to be filmed on Ouvea.

The film 'The Rebellion' was subsequently shot in French Polynesia, but on its release in 2011 cinema operators in Noumea refused to screen it.

At the time it was alleged it could cause resentment and weaken the forces of consensus.