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Tourists in New Caledonia ‘ecstatic’ as rescue planes were dispatched

Tourists in New Caledonia 'ecstatic' as rescue planes were dispatched

This photo shows a Kanak flag waving next to a burning vehicle at an independent roadblock in La Tamoa, in the municipality of Paita, the French Pacific region of New Caledonia on May 19, 2024. French troops broke through about 60 roadblocks to clear the road from New Caledonia’s conflict-ridden capital to the airport, but have still not reopened the route, a top government official said on May 19, 2024. Agence France-Presse

WELLINGTON – Australia and New Zealand said three planes will be sent to the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia on Tuesday to rescue hundreds of tourists barricaded in hotels during a week of deadly unrest.

In Wellington, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand sent a plane immediately after receiving long-delayed landing permission from French authorities.

New Caledonia’s main international airport, Tontouta International Airport, usually attracts a steady stream of tourists looking for a relaxing holiday in paradise.

READ: France deploys troops and bans TikTok to quell unrest in New Caledonia

But in the past week the country has received military planes loaded with heavily armed French security forces trying to quell violent protests against Paris’ rule.

Peters said the first New Zealand plane would take “50 passengers with the most urgent needs” back to Auckland.

It would, he said, be the “first in a series of proposed flights taking New Zealanders home”.

Shortly after the announcement, his colleague Penny Wong said Australia had been given permission to send two planes.

More than 3,000 people are estimated to have been stranded by a week of unrest that has closed the Pacific archipelago’s main international airport.

READ: New Caledonia votes to remain French in referendum: results

Many of them are Australian and New Zealand tourists stuck in resorts and hotels with dwindling food supplies.

Australian tourist Maxwell Winchester and his wife Tiffany have been barricaded in a resort between Noumea and the airport for more than a week.

He told AFP on Tuesday they were “ecstatic” at the prospect of an impending rescue.

“We realize that we probably won’t get on these flights because those who have higher needs will get on, but at least we know we have a way out in the coming days,” he said.

Tourists have told AFP of food shortages, gunfire and reports of arson and looting near resorts, leaving them fearful for their safety.