Azerbaijan accused of stirring unrest in New Caledonia as tensions persist

Europe Azerbaijan accused of stirring unrest in New Caledonia as tensions persist

France says it has "no doubt" that Azerbaijan is stirring tensions in New Caledonia despite the vast geographical and cultural distance between the oil-rich Caspian state and the French Pacific territory.

In what is the latest in a litany of tensions between Paris and Baku, France has directly accused Azerbaijan of being behind an alleged disinformation campaign that has fomented the riots in New Caledonia.

Azerbaijan rejects the accusation over this week's unrest, which have led to the deaths of at least five people and rattled the government in Paris.

The riots in New Caledonia – the French overseas territory lying between Australia and Fiji – were sparked by moves to agree a new voting law that supporters of independence from France say discriminates against the indigenous Kanak population.

Paris has pointed to the sudden emergence of Azerbaijani flags alongside Kanak symbols in the protests. A group linked to the Baku authorities is openly backing separatists while condemning Paris.

“This isn't a fantasy. It's a reality," Darmanin told television channel France 2 when asked if Azerbaijan, China and Russia were interfering in New Caledonia.

"I regret that some of the Caledonian pro-independence leaders have made a deal with Azerbaijan. It's indisputable," he alleged.

But he added: "Even if there are attempts at interference... France is sovereign on its own territory, and so much the better".

Historical enemies and allies

In images widely shared on social media, a reportage broadcast Wednesday on the French channel TF1 showed some pro-independence supporters wearing T-shirts adorned with the Azerbaijani flag.

Tensions between Paris and Baku have grown in the wake of the 2020 war and 2023 lightning offensive that Azerbaijan waged to regain control of its breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region from ethnic Armenian separatists.

France is a traditional ally of Christian Armenia, Azerbaijan's neighbour and historic rival, and is also home to a large Armenian diaspora.

Darmanin said Azerbaijan – led since 2003 by President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father Heydar – was a "dictatorship".

'Baku Initiative Group'

Azerbaijan invited separatists from the French territories of Martinique, French Guiana, New Caledonia and French Polynesia to Baku for a conference in July 2023.

The meeting saw the creation of the "Baku Initiative Group", whose stated aim is to support "French liberation and anti-colonialist movements".

The group published a statement this week condemning the French parliament's proposed change to New Caledonia's constitution, which would allow outsiders who moved to the territory at least 10 years ago the right to vote in its elections.

Pro-independence forces say that would dilute the vote of Kanaks, who make up about 40 percent of the population.

"We stand in solidarity with our Kanak friends and support their fair struggle," the Baku Initiative Group said.

Olympics disinformation campaign

Last November, France linked Azerbaijani figures to a disinformation campaign aimed at tarnishing its reputation as host of the 2024 Olympic Games.

Baku also rejected those accusations.
Viginum – the French organisation responsible for combating foreign digital interference – warned of a cyberattack denigrating the Olympic Games, attributed to Azerbaijan.

The recent presence of #BoycottParis2024 in New Caledonia has also raised questions over Baku's interference in the unrest.