The police station in Hienghene, a remote town in the Pacific island of New Caledonia, has been barricaded in for nearly three weeks. A few dozen protesters have blocked off the station’s access road and take turns keeping watch from the outside. Their cause is evident in the words written in chalk on the road: the names of three prominent French politicians, including the president, paired with the word “Assassins.”

The standoff is one example of the uneasy stalemate existing now in New Caledonia, where protests against more than 170 years of French rule turned violent last month and drove the territory to the brink of civil war. Seven people died, many more were injured, and businesses suffered losses worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

France quelled the worst of the violence by rushing thousands of armed police to the semiautonomous territory. President Emmanuel Macron even made a surprise visit. Macron ordered a days-long state of emergency, banned the use of TikTok, and shut the territory’s main airport. Those restrictions have since been lifted, and commercial flights are slowly resuming from a smaller airstrip near the capital, Noumea, although the territory’s main airport remains closed.

Authorities continue to enforce a nightly curfew and a ban on alcohol sales, while Indigenous Kanak protesters maintain barricades on Noumea’s outskirts and in remote towns like Hienghene.

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“We closed their door and keep them there and make them see what it’s like when a Kanak boy is kept in their jail in Noumea,” Jonas Tein, a protester in Hienghene, said about the town’s police station, which appears to have been resupplied. through regular visits by police helicopters. “We try to stay calm,” he said, but the crackdown by French police made him “want to have guns and do what they did in Noumea.”

Tensions over French rule have simmered in New Caledonia since a civil war in the 1980s. The current agitation has its roots in a proposal from Macron that would add thousands of French migrants to New Caledonia’s electoral rolls. Macron called the change a step towards full democracy in the territory. But to many Kanaks it was a betrayal of a decades-old peace agreement. They also worried the influx of new voters would make it impossible to win independence in any future referendum.

New Caledonia, and its vast nickel deposits, have new strategic value for France in the Pacific, where China has increasingly been jostling for influence. An independent New Caledonia, French loyalists argue, could easily be swayed towards Beijing.

During his trip to New Caledonia, Macron announced he would delay his voter-roll proposal. Kanak leaders and some moderate French loyalists have since urged him to withdraw it entirely.

“The only way to make the situation calm is to take away the text” of the constitutional amendment, said Joël Tjibaou, who is helping lead the siege of the Hienghene police station. Tjibaou’s father was a prominent Kanak leader who was assassinated after negotiating an end to the territory’s 1980s civil war.

Politicians from the territory’s pro-independence and loyalist parties are now working with a delegation of senior French civil servants to find a compromise that could resolve the tensions, although participants warn progress will be slow.

“The state has the watch, but we have the time,” Roch Wamytan, the pro-independence president of New Caledonia’s congress, has told local news media.

Pro-independence leaders have called for an end to the violence. Nevertheless, the unrest has made some white residents of New Caledonia anxious about their future. Mining has made New Caledonia prosperous, but there is stark economic inequality between whites and the Kanak people, who are now a minority in their homeland.

Nicolas Sougnac lives in Koumac, a settlement north of Noumea. He said that although the protests have not led to violence in his town, they have cut off supplies of fuel and made it difficult to get food. He said that he felt like he had been taken “hostage,” and that the French government had “abandoned” him.

“The last few weeks have shown that there’s no future for France in New Caledonia unless it can come to some kind of agreement with the aspirations of the independence movement,” said Adrian Muckle, a history professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. “It has really underscored the capacity the independence movement has to bring the territory to an economic standstill.”

Most of the unrest has been concentrated around Noumea, in New Caledonia’s south. French authorities are investigating several episodes of the previous weeks: some Kanak protesters were shot by unknown assailants; a video showed French police officers forcing a Kanak protester to his knees so that one officer could kick the man’s head; and a police officer of Kanak heritage reportedly got a severe beating from members of a local French militia.

Two police officers have been killed by protesters. According to French authorities, 192 more officers have been injured. Police leaders have said that protesters weaponized some barricades with gas tanks. One police officer was injured after falling into a manhole that protesters converted into a hidden trap. This week, there were reports of more shootings.

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A spokesperson for Louis Le Franc, France’s top official in New Caledonia, declined to comment.

The death toll from the current violence is much lower than in New Caledonia’s civil war. Nevertheless, “the scale of the damage that’s been done to Noumea is on a much greater scale,” Muckle said. “It’s a real shock to a lot of New Caledonians about what can be done in a short time. A lot of people are seriously thinking about their future in New Caledonia.”

Among them is Lizzie Carboni, a writer in Noumea. Armed police are stationed throughout her neighborhood. On Friday, a protester walked through her street threatening to burn residents’ homes. “I feel safe during the day,” Carboni said. “But at night, you can never be sure there won’t be a rock thrown at your window.”

Carboni is now trying to leave the territory. Last week, she attended an online seminar about migrating to New Zealand. She found more than 100 other people on the call, most of whom appeared to be New Caledonians.

“When I see how quickly the chaos came, you can never know what tomorrow is going to be like,” she said. “There’s no more confidence.”