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UK to pay share of Aboriginal land claim

THE UK and Australian governments are poised to reach agreement to end the eight-year dispute over the cost of cleaning up British nuclear test sites on Aboriginal territory, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Two days of talks involving Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, and Australian ministers and officials, finally extracted agreement by Britain to bear part of a compensation claim by the dispossessed Aboriginal population.

The deal is subject to ratification by the Australian cabinet. Gareth Evans, the foreign minister, and Simon Crean, the minister for primary industries and energy, are believed to have demanded that Britain pay up to half the claim - a move long resisted.

Pressure on Canberra, directed in turn on London, began to mount as Tjarutja Aborigines became increasingly frustrated over the long-running diplomatic dispute over who should meet their multi-million pound compensation claim over the land they traditionally owned at Maralinga, South Australia, where weapons were tested from 1956 to 1963.

They claim 45 million Australian dollars ( pounds 20m) compensation for loss of access to the land, and Adollars 225m ( pounds 100m) for tackling the radioactive debris. An earlier British offer amounted to just pounds 5m. Yesterday's was considerably more than that, the Foreign Office said.