Murder-accused rugby player out of French jail

By Julie Middleton

By JULIE MIDDLETON

Semi-professional rugby player Laurent Vili, New Caledonia's most well-known murder accused - or political scapegoat, say sympathisers - has been freed from a year of isolation in prison while awaiting trial.

Vili, 29, was transferred from a Noumea prison to one near Paris in August because he needed a delicate shoulder operation.

As well, French authorities were required to review his detention in September, but did not apply for an extension.

Vili has resumed his physical education degree studies in Montpellier, southwest France. He is not allowed to leave France and must report to police monthly.

No date has yet been set for the trial.

Vili, of Wallis Island descent, is charged with the murder of Melanesian Jean-Marie Goyeta, 26. A long-running ethnic dispute saw indigenous Melanesians (or Kanaks) in the district of St Louis, who once welcomed Wallisians, using bullets and arson to try to remove them.

Vili, studying in Montpellier at the time, came home to defend his parents' home in December 2001.

During confused exchanges of fire Goyeta was shot. He died three weeks later from his injuries.

Eighteen months later, Vili, back in France, was arrested on suspicion of Goyeta's death and placed in isolation at Noumea's Camp Est to protect him from reprisals.

Wallis Islanders

* Many of St Louis' original 1000-odd Wallisian residents, fearing for their safety, have moved out.

* This year authorities brokered an agreement which saw remaining Wallisians resettled in housing estates in and around Noumea.

* In late August, before the last Wallisian families left under police and military guard, police and soldiers with helicopters and armoured vehicles raided St Louis and arrested 10 people.

* New Caledonia is home to some 20,000 ethnic Wallisians and Futunians - about 10 per cent of the population.

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