Home Europe France accuses Azerbaijan of fomenting deadly riots in overseas territory New Caledonia

France accuses Azerbaijan of fomenting deadly riots in overseas territory New Caledonia

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Days of clashes between demonstrators and police in French-controlled New Caledonia are the result of foreign interference, Paris declared on Thursday, as local officials vowed to restore order in the South Pacific territory.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that the violence, which has claimed the lives of three indigenous Kanak people and a police officer, had been actively supported by Azerbaijan.

“This isn’t a fantasy,” he insisted on Thursday. “I regret that some of the separatists have made a deal with Azerbaijan.” However, “even if there are attempts at interference, … France is sovereign on its own territory, and so much the better,” he added.

Speaking to POLITICO, a French intelligence official granted anonymity to discuss sensitive issues of national security, said that “we’ve detected activities from Russia and Azerbaijan in New Caledonia for weeks, even a few months. They’re pushing the narrative of France being a colonialist state.”

Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aykhan Hajizada strongly rejected claims the country was behind the unrest. “Instead of accusing Azerbaijan of allegedly supporting pro-independence protests in New Caledonia, the Minister of the Interior of France should focus on his country’s failed policy towards the overseas territories that led to such protests,” he said.

Relations between France and Azerbaijan have hit rock bottom in recent years as a result of French military and political support for the South Caucasus country’s neighbor and historic rival Armenia — a situation only intensified by Baku’s military seizure of the ethnic Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh last year.

France’s accusations against Azerbaijan will only heighten the focus on the international meddling and domestic political crackdowns perpetrated by a regime that will host this year’s COP29 U.N. climate talks.

The demonstrations have seen renewed calls for the independence of the Pacific Ocean archipelago, 1,200 kilometers east of Australia. The protests come after French MPs backed changes to New Caledonia’s constitution, allowing any citizen who has lived there for at least 10 years to vote in its local elections, a move local pro-independence Kanak activists fear will see them sidelined.

France imposed a state of emergency on New Caledonia on Wednesday.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly accused France of “neo-colonialism” and has actively supported independence movements and other countries’ claims over French territories across the world, including the island of Mayotte and New Caledonia.

Azerbaijan has even founded the Baku Initiative Group, bringing together 14 political movements across the former French Empire in the name of decolonization. The group issued a statement Thursday in which they accused Paris of “infringing upon the Kanak people’s right to self-determination by expanding the electorate to keep them a minority in their own homeland.”

However, according to Philippe Gomes, former president of the government of New Caledonia, Azerbaijan is actively funding the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front.

France imposed a state of emergency on New Caledonia on Wednesday. | Delphine Mayeur/AFP via Getty Images

“Azerbaijan created the Baku group that funds separatists in all overseas French regions,” said Gomes, who has tried to quell calls for the islands to break from Paris. “Recent trips to Paris by independence activists were funded by Baku. It is clear and obvious that Azerbaijan is contributing in support the request for independence, which can be called foreign interference,” Gomes said.

Roch Wamytan, a Kanak politician serving as president of the Congress of New Caledonia has dismissed claims that Baku is a malign influence in the region. “Why demonize this country?” he asked in April as part of a row over local politicians recieving paid travel from authoritarian Azerbaijan. “France supports repressive and authoritarian regimes like Togo, Chad, Djibouti, by training their security forces, by advising their military hierarchy and through the sale of arms,” he said.

As part of the state of emergency, France has banned TikTok in New Caledonia in an apparent effort to disrupt the organization of protests that have left hundreds injured. The decision also allows authorities to order people deemed a threat to public order to be held under house arrest, as well as carry out searches, seize weapons and suspend the right to free assembly.

“No violence will be tolerated,” French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal has said, insisting the draconian measures will “allow us to roll out huge efforts to restore order.”

Home to more than a quarter of a million people, New Caledonia was settled around 3,000 years ago by Pacific Islanders, and named by British explorer James Cook in 1774. It was later conquered by France in 1853. In recent years, there have been charges that the indigenous Kanak people have faced systemic discrimination and chronic underdevelopment.

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