The news is reporting that paramilitaries are assisting police in the unrest in New Caledonia:

600 heavily armed police and paramilitaries on Sunday took part in an operation to retake the 60-kilometre (40-mile) main road from the capital Noumea to the airport, authorities said.

What paramilitary forces exist on New Caledonia that would be on the side of the police?

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    I think the answer made by @fourlegsgoodtwolegsbad, which explain it is just a translation issue might be right. It is worth noting that "vigilante units" were formed in some neighbourhood (white ones, in Nouméa, as neighbourhood are kinda segregated). I doubt they had an official role in the operation, but there presence is worth noting in this crisis's context. Commented May 21 at 11:29

3 Answers 3


This wording is likely a misleading translation. E.g., the corresponding wording in Le Parisien is

Plus de 600 gendarmes et le GIGN sont mobilisés ce dimanche pour débloquer l’accès à l’aéroport de Nouméa, où les vols commerciaux sont bloqués. Tous les collèges et lycées du territoire seront fermés jusqu’à au moins vendredi.

More than 600 gendarmes and the GIGN are mobilized this Sunday to unblock access to Nouméa airport, where commercial flights are blocked. All middle and high schools in the area will be closed until at least Friday.

Thus, "paramilitaries" likely refers here to gendarmes, whereas GIGN are special units, somewhat equivalent to SWAT teams. However, in France gendarmes are not a popular militia (as is often understood in English-speaking world), but rather the name for police in rural areas (correspondingly, police has narrower sense - applying to forces of order only in cities, although for historical reasons this distinction does not always holds de facto).

From Wikipedia article on Gendarmes:

As a result of their duties within the civilian population, gendarmeries are sometimes described as "paramilitary" rather than "military" forces (especially in the English-speaking world where policing is rarely associated with military forces) although this description rarely corresponds to their official status and capabilities. Gendarmes are very rarely deployed in military situations, except in humanitarian deployments abroad.


In France, the gendarmerie is in charge of rural areas and small towns (typically less than 10,000 inhabitants) which represent 95% of the territory and close to 50% of the population. Besides its territorial organization, it has crowd and riot control units (the Gendarmerie Mobile, along with some corresponding units in the civilian police), counter-terrorism and hostage rescue (GIGN, again along with some corresponding units in the civilian police), maritime surveillance, police at sea and coast guard (Gendarmerie maritime), control and security at airports and air traffic police (Gendarmerie des transports aériens), official buildings guard, honorary services and protection of the President (Garde Républicaine), mountain rescue (Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne) and security of nuclear weapons sites.

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    Gendarmerie is a mix of the roles of the U.S. National Guard, Coast Guard, and sheriff.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 20 at 17:05
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    To this one can add, that Gendarmerie Nationale was traditionally subordinated to the Ministry of Defence, although it has changed in 2009. Commented May 21 at 8:35

The term paramilitary originally referred to forces that are organized and equipped like military forces but are not part of the military. Some well-known examples are the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hostage Rescue Team or the Los Angeles Police Department's Metropolitan Division D Platoon, better known as LAPD SWAT.

However, nowadays, it is also used to refer to almost the opposite: military forces with responsibilities that are traditionally considered non-military, such as peace-time internal policing among the civilian population. This usage of the term is especially common where such a division of responsibilities is uncommon or even illegal – for example, in the United States, it would be highly unusual, if not un-constitutional, for military units to be responsible for policing anything other than a military installation.

Note that "traditionally considered non-military" is subjective. For example, in France, it is completely normal that, what in the US would be the responsibility of a Sheriff's Department, is actually the responsibility of the military: the French Gendarmerie Nationale is responsible for policing outside of major population centers, which covers 95% of the area and 50% of the population, and the Gendarmerie is a branch of the French military.

And that is precisely what the article is talking about. The article is using the term paramilitary rather than the more correct military, because calling them military would invoke the wrong image among the readers. Especially since The Guardian is a British newspaper, where in large parts of the country, police officers do not even routinely carry firearms.

So, in summary:

  • The forces are just the normal police forces.
  • But in France, the normal police forces are part of the military.
  • This technically makes them "military" forces.
  • But using the term "military" to describe them would be misleading to readers who are not used to regular police units being part of the military.
  • Therefore, the article uses the term "paramilitary" in the sense "part of the military, but not used in a traditional military role".
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    "part of the military, but not used in a traditional military role"? Isn't the term "paramilitary" more often used as the opposite? Not officially part of the military, but used in a military role.
    – vsz
    Commented May 21 at 4:21
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    @vsz: Yes, the second paragraph of this answer points out exactly that ambiguity. Commented May 21 at 14:13
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    The UK police have the Peelian tradition, where a police force was created, against traditional opposition, precisely as an unarmed service focused on crime rather than state control. Many countries in e.g. Europe have a police force that evolved as a branch of the military. "Paramilitary" in English has connotations of an autonomous armed organisation - often where the writer wishes to use a less loaded term than "terrorist" or "insurgent" - in this case it's a poor translation.
    – Rich
    Commented May 22 at 2:58
  • the Gendarmerie is a branch of the French military No, it is an armed force that reports to the Minister of Interior Affairs. They may be under military commandment for specific missions.
    – WoJ
    Commented May 22 at 19:11
  • The gendarmerie is a strange beast which can make it hard to describe succinctly but there are too many inaccuracies in this answer. French police is not part of the military (only the Gendarmerie nationale was to some extent but there is also a Police nationale, which is roughly as large) and law enforcement hasn't been the “responsibility of the military” in a long time. It should be possible to edit it to improve this.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 23 at 13:13

I don't think it's a translation issue. Paramilitary may include law enforcement forces.

Law enforcement

Semi-militarized law enforcement units within civilian police, such as police tactical units, SWAT, Emergency Service Units, and incident response teams

Gendarmeries, such as the French National Gendarmerie, Dutch Royal Marechaussee, Egyptian Central Security Forces, European EUROGENDFOR,

Turkic TAKM, and Chilean Carabineros de Chile

Border guards, such as the Australian Border Force, Indian Border Security Force, Bangladeshi Border Guard Bangladesh, and Turkish village guards

Security forces of ambiguous military status, such as internal troops, railroad guard corps, and railway troops

Branches of government agencies such as intelligence agencies tasked with law enforcement, tactical support, or security operations, such as the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Activities Center and Global Response Staff, or the U.S. Department of Energy's Federal Protective Forces


The GIGN is a counter-terrorist unit recruited from France's military police.

France. The GIGN (Groupe d’Intervention Gendarmerie Nationale) is recruited from the French gendarmerie, the military police. GIGN is a counterterrorist unit with international operational duties. In an operation that foiled what was arguably a precursor to the September 11 attacks, the GIGN rescued 173 hostages from Air France Flight 8969 in December 1994. Four Algerian terrorists had landed the aircraft in Marseilles, intending to fly to Paris to crash or blow up the plane over the city. GIGN assaulted the plane in a successful and classic operation


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