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New Caledonia independence activist to be detained in France

June 23, 2024

Christian Tein's lawyer says the pro-independence leader from the French Pacific territory will be sent to pre-trial detention in France, along with three other activists.

Christian Tein, head of the CCAT (Cellule de Coordination des Actions de Terrain), attends the first general assembly of the organization held at the Azareu tribe in Bourail, France's Pacific territory of New Caledonia
Christian Tein will be sent to Mulhouse, a city in eastern France near GermanyImage: Delphine Mayeur/AFP

Christian Tein, head of the pro-independence CCAT group in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia, will be held in France after being charged Saturday over deadly riots last month, his lawyer said.

Along with Tein, three other activists, including the group's communications director, Brenda Wanabow, will be sent nearly 17,000 kilometers (10,500 miles) to France.

Tein was charged by an investigating magistrate in the capital of New Caledonia, Noumea, on Saturday. He was the first of a group of 11 people arrested Wednesday to face charges over the violence that left nine people dead, including two police officers.

Noumea's chief prosecutor, Yves Dupas, said his investigation included armed robbery and complicity in murder or attempted murder. Dupas confirmed that four of those arrested on Wednesday would be taken into custody in France, without giving names.

What was the lawyers' reaction?

Tein's lawyer, Pierre Ortent, said he was "stupefied" that his client would be sent to a prison in Mulhouse in eastern France. Meanwhile, Wanabo's representative, Thomas Gruet, said she would be sent to Dijon.

"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.

Gruet said Wanabo, a mother of three, "never called for violence" and was "distraught" at being separated from her family.

Stephane Bonomo, lawyer for another detainee, Gilles Joredie, said the prosecutor's actions were the creation of "martyrs for the independence cause."

French territory of New Caledonia sees worst riots in years

Riots in New Caledonia

Riots, street blockades and looting broke out in New Caledonia in mid-May over an electoral reform that the indigenous Kanak people said would leave them in a permanent minority and put their hopes for independence out of reach for good.

The French government repeatedly accused Tein's CCAT of orchestrating the violence, and responded by deploying over 3,000 troops and police.

The CCAT has denied that it was behind the unrest.

dh/fb (AFP; EFE)