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RAAF could rescue stranded Australians from New Caledonia

written by Robert Dougherty | May 21, 2024

French Air and Space Force members help the crew of a Royal Australian Air Force C-27J Spartan unload cargo during Exercise Croix Du Sud 2023 in New Caledonia. (Image: CPL Dustin Anderson/Defence)

Australian Defence Force personnel are ready and awaiting assistance flights to New Caledonia, according to Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles.

The Minister for Defence confirmed the federal government has been tracking riots in the French territory, with a population of around 269,000 people, while speaking at a doorstop interview in the Hunter Valley with Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy on 20 May.

The announcement follows more than a week of unrest and riots in New Caledonia as pro-independence activists fight against more than 1,000 French police and paramilitary personnel deployed under a major security operation to the Pacific archipelago, east of Australia.

Conflict initially broke out after the French government announced plans to give non-Indigenous residents voting rights in the overseas territory.

A state of emergency has since been called in the region, night-time curfews established, and a ban on some apps such as TikTok. It’s understood over 200 people have been detained by authorities.

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“We’re working closely with France about [sending a Royal Australian Air Force flight into New Caledonia]. And we’re talking closely with the French government in respect of the situation in Noumea,” Minister Marles said.

“Obviously, this is a matter which is concerning, but it’s also a matter which is in the hands of the French authorities.

“We’re also speaking closely with our own consulate in Noumea. What I would say for Australians who are in Noumea now, firstly, listen to the directions of local authorities. You can follow the advice which has been provided through Smart Traveller, and be in touch with the consulate.”

More than 300 Australians have reportedly registered with consular officials in New Caledonia. Australia has received clearance to send two aircraft to retrieve stranded Australian citizens from New Caledonia, according to the ABC.

“We will continue to liaise very closely with the French government in relation to this (unrest),” Minister Marles said.

“We are ready (with Australian Defence Force flights). We’re going to work closely with the French authorities around what’s possible and what is needed.

“This is an evolving situation. We’re looking closely at it, but it really is in the hands of the French or authorities but we stand ready to act, if and when that is possible.”

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