Ouvéa cave hostage taking
The Ouvéa cave hostage taking was an event that occurred from 22 April 1988 to 5 May 1988 on the island of Ouvéa, New Caledonia, a south Pacific island under control of France. During the hostage taking and seizure of a brigade of gendarmerie, members of an independence movement, the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front, killed four gendarmes (including two unarmed) and took 27 unarmed gendarmes hostages (weapons were in the armory during the night), later also taking hostage a public prosecutor and seven members of the French GIGN military unit. They demanded talks with the French government about independence for New Caledonia from France. In previous years, about ten gendarmes had been killed in New Caledonia in connection with the independence movement.
The French government said it refused to negotiate with terrorists or agree to the group's demands. It sent a joint hostage recovery team that consisted of:
- 12 from Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN)
- 15 from Commando Hubert
- 30 from 11e régiment parachutiste de choc (covert unit part of the Directorate-General for External Security)
- 3 from Escadron Parachutiste d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (EPIGN)
Nineteen of the hostage-takers and two members of the hostage recovery team were killed in the assault. There were allegations that most of the dead hostage-takers had been summarily executed after being captured.
After having attacked the Gendarmes, "independentists" retreated to a remote part of the island covered by deep jungle. Negotiations began between the government and hostage takers but were not effective. Some GIGN operators became hostages too as the government was trying to find a peaceful solution.
The operation was highly uncommon as the number of hostage takers (more than 30), the size of the assault force and the location (a rugged jungle looking like New Guinea or Eniwetok) turned the operation into an Iwo-Jima like assault.
The assault "Operation Victor" was initiated on 4 May at around 22:15. Around seventy-four operators moved into the forest towards the hostage location. The Kanak independentists numbered around 30 and were heavily armed (assault rifles, rifles and some heavy machine-guns).
- Commando Hubert operators were tasked to neutralize the AA52 7.5mm medium machine gun located at the entrance to the cave as it would pin down any approaching force and increase the risk of the hostages being harmed. - The 11e choc was to neutralize other Kanak positions located to the south. - A joint GIGN and Commando Hubert team would approach the entrance to the cave where hostages were located.
The attack started at 06:15 but assault teams soon understood that starting positions were not accurate, leading to some delays as the terrain was often impassable. A Puma helicopter that was supposed to provide a noise distraction was three minutes late and 300 metres off target. As a result, the separatists were warned of the assault and had time to pull back inside the caves. Some Kanak sentries spotted the approaching assault team who had moved further north than they should have and opened fire, wounding a Commando Hubert operator. Another operator shot and killed the sentry that had fired. Another assault force member was killed as he crossed the open ground in front of the cave. The Commando Hubert team then cleared the area in front of the machine gun position with flamethrowers. During the one-hour fight, two operators from 11th Choc (Adjudant Régis Pedrazza and Private Jean-Yves Véron) and twelve independentists were killed.
The hostages managed to hide at the bottom of the cave in the confusion and prevented Kanaks from entering this part of the cave (as a gun had been smuggled to them during the negotiations). The Kanak group surrendered but, by the end of the assault, nineteen hostage-takers and two members of the military had been killed. All the hostages were saved.
According to a later report of Captain Philippe Legorjus, then GIGN leader: "Some acts of barbarity have been committed by the French military in contradiction with their military duty". In the post-mortems, it appeared that 3 of the Kanak activists had been executed and the leader of the hostage-takers, Alphonse Dianou, who was severely injured by a gunshot in the leg, had been left without medical care, and died some hours later. Prior to this report, Captain Philippe Legorjus was accused by many of the GIGN agents who took part in the operation of weaknesses in command and to have had "dangerous absences" (some even said he fled) in the final stages of the case. He was forced to resign from the GIGN after this operation, since nobody wanted him as chief or to fight under him.[according to whom?]
The military authorities have always denied the version of events given by Captain Philippe Legorjus. Following a command investigation, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Minister of Defence of the Michel Rocard government, noted that "no part of the investigation revealed that there had been summary executions". In addition, according to some participants of the operation interviewed by Le Figaro, no shots were heard in the area after the fighting ended.
Many of the gendarmes who had been hostages suffered Stockholm syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- "Grotte d'Ouvéa, 1988, la plaie est toujours ouverte | L'Humanité" (in French). Humanite.fr. Retrieved 2017-07-22.
- Guiart, Jean (1997). "A drama of ambiguity: Ouvea 1988–89". Journal of Pacific History. 32 (1): 85–102. doi:10.1080/00223349708572829.
- Legorjus, Philippe (1990). La Morale et l'action. Paris. ISBN 2-87645-077-1.
- Michalski, Cédric (2004). L'Assaut de la grotte d'Ouvéa : Analyse juridique. Paris. ISBN 2-7475-6467-3.
- Bernard, Michel (2003). GIGN, le temps d'un secret. Paris: Bibliophane-Daniel Radford. ISBN 2-86970-073-3.
- Raluy, Antonio (1990). La Nouvelle-Calédonie. Paris. ISBN 2-8653-7259-6.
- Rollat, Alain; Plenel, Edwy (1988). Mourir à Ouvéa, Le tournant calédonien. Paris. ISBN 2-7071-1795-1.
- A drama of ambiguity: Ouvea 1988-89, Journal of Pacific History, June, 1997 by Jean Guiart, archived from the original on 4 May 2008
- Pacific Magazine: New Caledonia Marks 20th Anniversary Of Ouvea Tragedy[dead link]