Vanuatu has called on France to engage peacefully with the leaders of the indigenous Kanak people of New Caledonia after the French government announced that President Emmanuel Macron will visit the island nation.

Protests and rioting erupted in the capital city of Noumea last week after the French government imposed new laws on who is allowed to vote in local elections – sparking fears that the Kanak people’s democratic voice will be diluted by French voters there.

The unrest on the French colony has led to some looting, arson and deadly clashes with the police, which have killed at least six people. The French government declared a 12-day state of emergency on the island last week and has sent 1,000 soldiers.

Matai Seremaiah, deputy prime minister of neighbouring Vanuatu said in a written statement the violence and unrest in New Caledonia is “a stark reminder of the unfinished business of decolonisation” across the Pacific.

“While not condoning the violence, the government of Vanuatu is strongly opposed to electoral changes that will only serve to disadvantage the indigenous population in a so-called democratic process,” Seremaiah said.

“We strongly urge the French government to seriously engage in peaceful and meaningful dialogue with all Kanak leaders in addressing their legitimate concerns. This includes addressing voting reforms and ensuring that the Kanak people have their say in their future.

“We call on France — as a global leader and contributor to global democratic principles — to do the right thing, to resolve all outstanding decolonisation issues in Melanesia, as per the calls of the Melanesian people,” he said.