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April Today in Terrorism

April 22, 1988: Terrorists take gendarmes hostage in New Caledonia

On this day in 1988, indigenous terrorists, known collectively as the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front attacked a gendarmerie, killing 3 gendarmes and taking 27 unarmed hostages on the island of Ouvéa in New Caledonia

OUVRÉA, NEW CALEDONIA – Colonialism has wrought unimaginable harm across the globe, no matter how you slice it. One of the consequences of this attempt at global domination has been terrorism.

Let’s start with a history lesson. We all know that France took part in the colonial expansion by European powers in the 19th and 20th centuries. But did you know that is still retains quite a few of its territories from this expansion?

Interestingly, France still refers to these colonial territories as “communes”, which is the equivalent of a civil township or municipality here in Canada. As of 2008, France had 36,569 communes in their country proper and an additional 212 overseas.

While it may seem like referring to these overseas territories as communes gives them equal status to the communities on the mainland, they are still colonies and France remains a colonial power. As a result, there has long been a struggle between independence and anti-independence supporters – it’s hard to accept a government based so far from one’s home.

Now, which piece of humanity would you like to possess? (Photo: Public Domain)

In reaction to France’s continued possession of these territories, independence movements have cropped up in an attempt to free their people of what they see as the chains of colonialism.

Some of these groups, though by no means all, have resorted to terrorism to make their wishes known.

On this day in 1988

Indigenous terrorists, known collectively as the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front attacked a gendarmerie, killing 3 gendarmes and taking 27 unarmed hostages on the island of Ouvéa in New Caledonia. The kidnappers told authorities that the hostages would be released unharmed if France appointed an unbiased mediator to help lead independence talks.

Within two days, 11 hostages would be released but an additional six gendarmes were captured along with one magistrate on the 27th when they sought to negotiate the hostages’ release.

The whole debacle ended in a firefight on May 6th during which 15 of the captors and two commandos were killed, but all the hostages were successfully freed. There were accusations that the captors were tortured before being killed execution-style: supporters of independence referred to the raid as a massacre. New Caledonia remains a French territory to this day.

We had tried everything possible, routine talks, humanitarian negotiations. But the tension kept increasing, and we concluded that a negotiated solution was no longer possible.

Bernard Pons, Minister for Overseas Territories

The moral of this story? Running a colony is complicated. Especially when not all of its citizens are happy under foreign authority.

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Director of the National Security programme at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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