SYDNEY May 28 Two French police on the Pacific
island of New Caledonia were shot and wounded on Wednesday by
young Melanasians, angered by mining giant Vale's
chemical spill in a river.
The two gendarmes suffered slight injuries after being hit
by shotgun pellets fired by protesters blocking a highway near
the Vale's $6 billion nickel mine, a spokeswoman for the nearby
city of Mont Dore told Reuters.
Police had since restored order and were maintaining a large
security presence in the area, she said.
Southern New Caledonia has been the centre of violence since
Saturday when rioters torched vehicles and buildings near the
controversial mine, causing more than $20 million worth of
damage, according to Vale's estimates.
Protesters have been frustrated by the lack of response from
indigenous Kanak chiefs to the chemical spill.
Vale representatives and local authorities were due to hold
a meeting late Wednesday with the chiefs to discuss the
situation, she said.
The local government suspended operations at the nickel
processing plant in Goro three weeks ago after some 100,000
litres of acid-tainted effluent leaked, killing about 1,000
An independent report on the acid spill which was expected
to be submitted to the southern province on Wednesday had
prompted speculation the Vale plant could re-open soon.
"We are expecting a decision by the southern province as
early as today to partially allow the re-opening of the site,"
said Catherine Wehbé, director of New Caledonia business
The southern provincial government and Vale declined to
comment on the timing of any production restart.
The local government had previously said it would not allow
a resumption of production until safety procedures were revised,
an oversight committee was reinstated and an independent
expert's report was completed.
"The conversations with the government and community
stakeholders continue," said Vale spokesman Cory McPhee.
"There has been no declaration of force majeure at this
time," he added.
The Goro mine produced 4,100 tonnes of nickel in the first
quarter, up 41 percent on a year ago. Vale is the world's
second-biggest nickel producer, but Goro made up just 6 percent
of its nickel output in the first quarter.
Global nickel prices hit a 27-month high earlier this month
and are up by about 40 percent this year, driven by a decision
by Indonesia to halt exports of raw nickel ores and news of the
(Additional reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Lincoln
Feast and Simon Cameron-Moore)