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Separatists Take Hostages After Clash with Police

February 23, 1988

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (AP) _ About 100 separatist protesters fought with French police at a hospital construction site and took nine officers hostage for 13 hours, releasing them Tuesday morning, authorities said.

Seventeen policemen were injured in the clash Monday at Poindimie on east side of the French South Pacific island, officials reported, and the hostages were taken at about 4 p.m. that afternoon.

Police said the officers were freed at 5:20 a.m. Tuesday as preparations were being made for a police operation.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said no concessions were made and there were no negotiations, but also said all the separatists escaped arrest. No further details were provided.

Philippe Berges, chief of staff at the French High Commission, said the Poindimie protesters demanded a halt to work at the hospital site, which began Friday.

He said the team of gendarmes, police force under military direction, showed great restraint by not firing their weapons when they were attacked with sticks and stones.

The gendarmes fired tear gas grenades to disperse the demonstrators and captured and disarmed some of them, Berges said.

Reinforcements were sent to the scene but police said they would act against Melanesian supporters of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front only on direct orders from the territorial administration.

The organization of Kanaks, as indigenous Melanesians are called, opposes building the hospital on what it claims is land belonging to the Tieti tribe.

A majority of the population of New Caledonia, a French overseas territory of 145,000 people 1,100 miles east of Australia, voted against independence in a referendum last September. Kanaks make up 42.6 percent of the population and Europeans 37.1 percent. Other nationalities make up the rest.

Regional elections, which the separatists say they will boycott, are scheduled for March.

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