South Pacific Nations Condemn French Decision to Restart Nuclear Tests
Jun. 14, 1995
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ South Pacific nations today protested France's decision to resume nuclear tests in the region, with Australia and New Zealand limiting military ties while some called for a boycott of French goods.
New Zealand's foreign minister, Don McKinnon, accused French President Jacques Chirac of ``Napoleonic-De Gaulle arrogance'' for announcing that eight more explosions would rock French Polynesia beginning in September.
Chirac said Tuesday that France would resume the testing, suspended in 1992, to complete its experimental program. He promised France would halt all tests in fall 1996 and sign a treaty banning such testing.
French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette today repeated Chirac's statement that the decision was irrevocable. He said there were no plans to develop new nuclear weapons.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Bolger told Parliament today that his country would suspend all defense links with France, except those affecting humanitarian and U.N. peacekeeping roles. New Zealand also canceled visits by French ships and suspended joint training.
``It is not too late for France to reconsider its position,'' he said. ``There is a great deal at stake.''
Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating said he too will freeze military cooperation while the testing takes place.
Trade Minister Bob McMullan said existing defense links, such as training and joint maritime surveillance in the Pacific, will be maintained. But new ties, such as defense contracts, will not proceed.
A group of Australian mayors and trade unionists called for a boycott of French goods.
And both Australia and New Zealand planned to lodge formal diplomatic protests and countries of the region mounted a war of words against France.
Tiny island states, represented by the South Pacific Forum, said a resumption of testing in September would be ``particularly provocative'' as it would coincide with an annual summit meeting of island leaders.
``This flagrant disregard for world and regional opinion will do considerable damage to France's relations with the forum region,'' said the group's secretary-general Ieremia Tabai, based in Fiji.
Daniel Millaud, a representative of French Polynesia to the French Senate, called Chirac's decision a ``monumental error.''
South Pacific states have protested France's nuclear program since it started in Polynesia in the early 1960s. They oppose any weapons build-up in the region and fear the consequences of continued blasting to their fragile ocean environment.
France denies there is any danger. But environmentalist groups claim the rock bases of Mururoa Atoll and neighboring Fangataufa Atoll, about 3,200 miles southeast of Hawaii, have been shattered by underground explosions and are leaking small amounts of radiation.
In 1973, New Zealand sent a warship to the French blast zone in protest of testing. The South Pacific declared itself a nuclear-free zone in 1985.
After Socialist President Francois Mitterrand suspended France's testing program in April 1992, the United States, Britain and Russia quickly followed suit, with China remaining the only nuclear power to continue experimental nuclear blasts for weapons testing.
``When the world is heading in the right direction on this issue, France is taking a major step backwards,'' McKinnon told Radio New Zealand.
In Washington, the White House issued a statement saying, ``The United States regrets this action.'' But White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry noted Chirac's commitment to end the tests and sign a test-ban treaty.
Japan's foreign minister, Yohei Kono, said the resumed testing violates the trust of the non-nuclear community. The Philippines and Indonesia also joined the chorus of condemnation.
The Rainbow Warrior II, a ship owned by the Greenpeace environmentalist group, left port in Auckland, New Zealand, on Tuesday for the Polynesian testing zone in anticipation of Chirac's announcement. It was scheduled to leave New Zealand waters today for Mururoa after a brief ceremony over the submerged wreck of the original Rainbow Warrior. Ten years ago that ship was bombed in Auckland port by French intelligence agents, killing one activist.