Three Greenpeace activists penetrated the exclusion zone around the Mururoa atoll nuclear test site in the south Pacific yesterday as environmental campaigners continued to play a game of cat and mouse with the French authorities.
They entered the zone in a Zodiac fast inflatable boat launched from the Greenpeace vessel Vega, which remained outside French territorial waters when its sister ship Rainbow Warrior II went inside only to be boarded by 150 commandos.
Sally Convery, a Greenpeace campaigner in London, said last night that it was believed that two men had now landed on the atoll 650 miles east of Tahiti in their effort to frustrate French plans to carry outeight underground nuclear tests.
The trio are all Greenpeace veterans. Chris Robinson, an Australian, and Henk Haazen, who has dual Dutch and New Zealand nationality, were both members of the crew of the original Rainbow Warrior which was sunk by a French bomb exactly 10 years ago. David McTaggart, a Canadian, took part in protests at Mururoa in the Seventies.
Two other Greenpeace activists who got ashore and climbed to the top of the rig which drills the shafts for the underground tests were arrested by the French after half an hour.
Richard Laney, who has dual British and Australian citizenship, and Madeleine Habib, an Australian, crewed one of four Zodiacs which set off from the Rainbow Warrior II almost two hours before it was intercepted by the French navy on Sunday.
Michael Szabo, a Greenpeace spokesman in New Zealand, said: "What we have shown is that we are capable of breaching the military security of the nuclear test site. We have demonstrated our ability to disrupt the testing programme and we are still in a position to look at future activities which could further disrupt the preparations."
The Rainbow Warrior II was seized by the French on Sunday, when commandos smashed down doors with an axe and hurled tear gas canisters inside. The ship was towed out of the exclusion zone by a French tug yesterday and last night was 15 miles north-east of the atoll, where it was still being shadowed by a French navy frigate.
Also in the area outside the exclusion zone is a third Greenpeace ship, the Bifrost.
As protesters gathered outside French embassies around the world, governments in the Pacific heaped criticism on France's decision to conduct the tests. But Britain and other European countries refrained from commenting on the commando action. Only Germany seems inclined to put pressure on Paris, with Chancellor Helmut Kohl preparing to raise the issue with President Jacques Chirac at tomorrow's Franco-German summit.
The Greenpeace raid
`There was a shuddering jolt as we were rammed.
It was frightening.'
- the story of the French commando raid, page 10