French hold protest ships

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Rainbow Warrior II and MV Greenpeace, the two ships spearheading the campaign to stop France's nuclear tests in the South Pacific, were in French captivity last night near the Mururoa test site. A group of 22 Greenpeace activists arrested by French officials on Friday near the test site were taken to Tahiti yesterday and released.

After a day of drama in which French commandos stormed the ships, immobilised their engines, broke into their communications rooms with sledgehammers and smashed their radio equipment, the authorities in Papeete, capital of French Polynesia, said the French navy would tow the vessels to Hao, an island about 300 miles north of Mururoa, to be impounded there.

Greenpeace has demanded the return of the vessels, saying that France broke international law since the MV Greenpeace had not breached the exclusion zone and was in international waters when it was attacked. The commandos are still aboard the ships and are reported to have lunched on chicken and fresh baguettes amid the wreckage left after their assault.

Among the Greenpeace campaigners arrested were Bill Mosca and Heinrick Smital, two divers who invaded the Mururoa lagoon under which the tests are due to be detonated.

The two ships were under French naval guard last night within the 12- mile zone where judicial officials had interviewed all those taken into custody.

They include Oscar Temaru, the Polynesian leader of the pro-independence Polynesian Liberation Front and Eni Faleomavaega, a fellow Polynesian and US congressman from American Samoa.

Mr Temaru's staff said last night that Paul Ronciere, the French high commissioner in Tahiti, had advised them that Mr Temaru had been released and was due to fly back to Papeete overnight together with about 13 journalists who had been aboard the two seized ships.

The fate of the Greenpeace crews and campaigners is less certain. At a press conference in Papeete Mr.Ronciere said they could be charged with failure to pay customs taxes for flying a helicopter in French Polynesia, and with trespassing in French waters and on a military base.

Anti-nuclear protesters isolated Papeete late on Friday, erecting roadblocks at both ends of the city and creating huge traffic jams. The city braced itself for an anti-nuclear, pro-independence rally of up to 15,000 yesterday. About 100 legislators, including Japan's Finance Minister Masayoshi Takemura, are flying in from Asia, Europe and Australia and New Zealand to take part.

Demonstrations against the series of tests were held in several cities around the world, with the largest in Tokyo and Melbourne. The US televison network CBS said yesterday that President Clinton, to indicate his displeasure with the tests, has personally asked France not to detonate a bomb while he is in Hawaii this weekend.

However with the disabling of Rainbow Warrior II and MV Greenpeace, France should feel free to go ahead with its plans. The two impounded ships both contained satellite communications equipment and the MV Greenpeace has a landing pad from which its helicopter conducted surveillance flights of preparation at Mururoa. The remaining two Greenpeace vessels in the area lack these facilities.

Independent Tahiti? page 13