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New Zealand seething over French handling of Greenpeace affair

Relations between New Zealand and France are at their chilliest in 10 years as a result of the Greenpeace affair. There is a sense of outrage in New Zealand over a report to the Paris government absolving France of any official responsibility for the bombing of the Greenpeace protest ship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland harbor July 10.

The outrage has been dissipated only slightly by assurances from Prime Minister Laurent Fabius that France would however take legal action against any of its citizens if New Zealand provided evidence of their involvement in the incident.

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``The report is not a whitewash,'' said New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, ``because it is too transparent for that.'' He dubbed it incredible, contradictory, and inconclusive and said Bernard Tricot, the French presidential aide who conducted the investigation, had made ``an international fool of himself.''

The Rainbow Warrior, a former British fishing boat, was preparing to leave Auckland for a French nuclear-test site on Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia. It was to lead a Greenpeace protest flotilla when it was sunk by two bombs attached below the waterline. A crew member was killed in the attack, apparently the first example of international terrorism in New Zealand.

Mr. Tricot's report acknowledged that five French secret service agents were to New Zealand to spy on the Greenpeace protest operation. It noted that all five -- four men and a woman -- were experienced scuba divers but said they did not have anything to do with the attack. France had violated New Zealand's sovereignty by sending the five spies here, Mr. Lange said. ``It is totally unacceptable that a government should authorize -- and at the highest levels -- such clandestine illegal activities in the territory of a friendly country.''

Lange was particularly incensed that Tricot had said the French man and woman arrested here and awaiting trial on murder and bombing charges were innocent, saying that was a matter for a New Zealand court to decide. The pair entered New Zealand posing as tourists, carrying false Swiss passports. Tricot identified them as officers in the French secret service.

Lange was also seething over France's refusal to hand over the other agents, who came to New Zealand under the guise of vacationing sailors aboard a yacht chartered in the French Pacific possession of New Caledonia.

Tricot interviewed the agents and confirmed they had gone to New Zealand to spy on Greenpeace. But he protested their innocence, saying he did not believe they had been ordered to bomb the ship, and they had not exceeded the orders.

Lange said the refusal defied the ``total cooperation'' with New Zealand that French President Franois Mitterrand had promised. He said the three should stand trial in New Zealand. ``I would have thought that is the least gallant men of honor would do to vindicate themselves from such an appalling allegation that they, in a totally alien country, sabotaged a vessel, resulting in the death of a person on board.''

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Lange took some comfort from the French Prime Minister Fabius's statement that the three could be tried in France if New Zealand provided the evidence. But he said New Zealand had not ruled out French government complicity in the attack, and the evidence could be used to help the defense of the two agents awaiting trial in New Zealand.

Another comment by Fabius did not help the situation. In an apparent reference to New Zealand's continued vocal opposition to French nuclear testing, Fabius said those who encouraged actions against France in the Pacific should not be surprised that we wish to remain vigilant in order to maintain our interests.''

Responded Lange: ``That presumably is a tentative justification for having spies in New Zealand.'' The admission that agents had been sent here would only further unite people in protest against French testing, he said.

French-New Zealand relations have not been so strained since 1973, the time of New Zealand's first protest over France's nuclear testing in the South Pacific. New Zealand sent a Navy ship to France's nuclear test site on an official protest voyage and took France to the World Court.

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