French commandos storm the Rainbow Warrior

Protesters sail into nuclear-test exclusion zone

ROBERT MILLIKEN

Papeete

French naval commandos detained two Greenpeace ships yesterday near the French nuclear test site in the South Pacific and arrested two divers who had reached the test platform in Mururoa lagoon.

A group of 19 commandos stormed the Rainbow Warrior II after the French navy warned the Greenpeace vessel not to proceed any further into the 12-mile military exclusion zone around Mururoa. They used blow torches to cut into the barricaded wheelhouse, in a virtual repetition of the last French action against the vessel in July.

Commandos dropped from helicopters on to Rainbow Warrior's sister ship, Greenpeace, after a helicopter based on the vessel allegedly breached the zone. Nine inflatable dinghies launched by the two ships in an effort to disrupt France's planned series of underground nuclear tests were also seized. The French authorities said both vessels would be towed to an island more than 350 miles away, where all 56 people on board would be held for at least 48 hours.

Thomas Shultz, the nuclear campaigns co-ordinator for Greenpeace International, said in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, from where the Greenpeace vessels had sailed a fortnight ago: "The engines of Rainbow Warrior II have been stopped. She appears to be dead in the water.

Her crew of 16 have all been arrested except the skipper, John Castles, who has barricaded himself in the crow's nest and is maintaining contact with the Zodiacs [inflatable dinghies] by radio." Three Zodiacs entered the lagoon under darkness inside the coral atoll at Mururoa where the French are preparing to conduct the first of seven or eight underground nuclear tests.

He said: "Greenpeace has issued a warning to the French navy that we have divers in the water and that the tests should be stopped immediately."

Vice-Admiral Philippe Euvert, the French armed forces commander in the South Pacific, said: "Everyone has been held, and all the dinghies". He did not think Greenpeace could "mount any more actions". On Thursday he warned Greenpeace that if it sent divers into the Mururoa lagoon the French military might regard it as a hostile act and open fire.

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