“My desire (…) is to be alongside the population so that as quickly as possible, there is a return to peace, calm and security. It’s the priority of priorities,” declared Emmanuel Macron as soon as he got off the plane at Nouméa airport, Thursday April 23 in the morning.

While since the start of the riots on the French Pacific archipelago, six people have been killed, including two mobile gendarmes, he observed a minute of silence as a preamble to a meeting with elected officials and economic players. Arriving alongside ministers Gérald Darmanin (interior), Sébastien Lecornu (armies) and Marie Guévenoux (overseas), the head of state promised “decisions” and “announcements” at “the end of this day “, even if he assured that he had “no limit” to his time on site.

He stressed that “many populations are suffering today”, citing the difficulties of access to care, but also “supply”, ten days after an eruption of unprecedented violence on the archipelago for almost forty years, which still leave entire neighborhoods difficult to access.

Determined to restore order, Emmanuel Macron assured that the approximately 3,000 members of the security forces deployed “will stay as long as necessary, even during the Olympic and Paralympic Games” in Paris, which end at the beginning of September. As for the state of emergency in force for a week, he “thinks” that it “should not be extended” beyond the legal 12 days, provided that “all the leaders” of the archipelago “call to remove the roadblocks.”

“Determination” and “humility”

Accompanied by the three senior officials who will be responsible for renewing dialogue with independentists and non-independentists, Emmanuel Macron called for “constructive appeasement” and the search for a political “solution”. But without going back to the result of the three referendums which confirmed the maintenance of the overseas territory in the Republic, because “appeasement cannot be a step backwards”, he argued.

However, he did not say clearly at this stage how he intended to clear away what was the detonator of the riots, namely the vote in the National Assembly to thaw the electoral body of the archipelago. A constitutional reform decried by the separatists and which must still be voted on by the deputies and senators meeting in Congress before the end of June, unless an agreement on a global text between separatists and loyalists is reached by then.

A challenge when dialogue is at a standstill, prompting a large part of the political class, even within the Macronist camp, to request a postponement of the Congress. In this perspective, Mr. Macron, who is attempting a real gamble with this improvised trip, said he came with “determination” but with “also a lot of respect and humility.” His last trip to the archipelago, in July 2023, was boycotted by Kanak separatists.

The roadblocks persist

Thursday, the separatists Roch Wamytan, president of the Congress of New Caledonia, and Louis Mapou, president of the New Caledonian government, were present at the first meeting around the head of state. On the ground, “the night was calm,” High Commissioner Louis Le Franc announced Thursday morning to Agence France-Presse (AFP). “There was no additional damage but so much was destroyed,” he further argued.

On the road which connects Dumbéa (north of the capital) to Nouméa, littered with numerous burned-out vehicle carcasses, filter dams persist, noted an AFP journalist Thursday morning. And in Greater Nouméa, the dams have been strengthened. Many independence flags and banners, for example expressing “No to the thaw” or “Darmanin assassin”, still float in the air.

Life is resuming in the center of Nouméa, where many stores have reopened their doors, supervised by a strong police presence. But a return to normal is not yet in order: the government has called to order by press release “certain traders [who] are taking advantage of the circumstances to exaggerately increase the prices of their products, some of which are regulated, making this totally illegal practice.”