A French special envoy to New Caledonia vowed today to use security forces to stop violence by Kanak separatists and French settlers and help establish a "new order" for this troubled South Pacific territory.
Expressing concern that "fear has taken hold" in this French overseas territory and that tensions between rival communities "are increasing rather than abating," Edgard Pisani, the island's new high commissioner, warned that security forces would step in to ensure the safety of people, private property and public buildings and restore freedom of movement for all.
France's Socialist government has come under intense criticism from conservative French settlers here for allegedly restraining the police from intervening to halt a campaign of violent agitation by independence-seeking Kanak militants.
Pisani told New Caledonians in a live television address that restoration of order was not a goal in itself but a means to achieve "a new order" for the territory through a three-stage program that would satisfy "the legitimate aspirations of the different communities."
Pisani's speech, his first since taking up his post here yesterday, came amid reports of further attacks on French settlers in outlying areas by Kanak militants and the evacuation of 80 French children and women from the town of Ouegoa on the northern tip of the island.
At least six militants seeking independence were killed Thursday in a clash with white settlers in which dynamite was hurled at their cars, police reported, according to The Associated Press. The office of the High Commissioner overseeing the Pacific territory said eight people were killed and four wounded in the clash.
The incident followed an attack on the homes of settlers Wednesday in which three Kanaks were killed when the settlers returned fire.
Agence France-Presse reported that the Kanak front announced Thursday that its militants would be ordered to lift roadblocks that have contributed to the tensions.
A spokesman for the high commissioner said French military helicopters and transport planes were ferrying supplies to settlers cut off in villages in different parts of the main island, and carrying out evacuees fearful of the Kanak agitation campaign.
The campaign began last month when Kanaks boycotted a Nov. 18 election for a new territorial assembly on grounds it perpetuated French colonial rule here. So far, the violence has been largely against property, including the burning of houses and vehicles. Two persons have been killed and about a dozen wounded in gun battles.
Jean-Marie Tjibao, the head of an independent "provisional government" proclaimed for the territory last week by the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, said the leading separatist organization would continue to seek independence for the Kanak, or Melanesian, people no matter what Pisani proposed.
But Tjibao ruled out waging war against the French settlers and immigrants of other races, who together outnumber the Melanesians. The black-skinned natives account for about 43 percent of New Caledonia's 142,000 population.
"We don't have the means to make war," Tjibao said. "It is not serious, it is a joke to talk of war against France." He said roadblocks set up by armed front members were meant "to protect our militants in the face of colonists who are very well armed."
"If the colonists want war," added the 48-year-old former priest, "they are well equipped to make war, but not us."
One of the front's young militant followers disagreed. He warned that if independence was not granted, Kanaks would attack the French settlers and force them to leave.
On the other hand, a recent French settler interviewed on local television at an anti-independence group's roadblock vowed that "we will defend ourselves to the last man."
To head off the prospect of such a conflict, Pisani couched his appeal for order tonight in language meant to appease both sides and offered no details of the "new order" that he said he was determined to achieve.
Pisani said he would begin consultations separately with all involved political forces on Dec. 15, if calm had been restored on the island. Then, he said, he would propose to all these groups by Jan. 5 the elements of an agreement that they could debate among themselves. Finally, by Feb. 2 he would report the results to the French government so that it could make decisions necessary for the future of New Caledonia.
That future already has become a major political issue in France between the Socialist government and its conservative opposition, and it shows signs of causing some divisions among the Socialists.
Tonight New Caledonian television showed an interview in Paris in which Agriculture Minister Michel Rocard declared that "the Kanaks must understand it is not possible to have independence only for themselves . . . and throw the others into the sea."
In a news conference here, Tjibao nevertheless maintained that any referendum on independence must be limited to the Kanak population. He said the French settlers, some of whose families have lived in the 131-year-old French possession for generations, could then decide whether to adopt "Kanaky" nationality after a six-year procedure, stay as foreign residents, or leave.
Tjibao also confirmed that 17 young Kanak militants had been to Libya for training recently, but denied reports that the Kanak front was receiving Libyan aid. He said, however, that his group was looking for aid and would accept any that was offered.