By Jennifer Thompson
As opposition grows to French nuclear weapons testing at Moruroa atoll, Greenpeace and other campaigners will be remembering the bombing in Auckland harbour of the first Rainbow Warrior on July 10, 1985.
The Rainbow Warrior had just arrived as part of a peace voyage that included the evacuation of 320 residents of contaminated Rongelap atoll, deliberately contaminated by US nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands in the 1950s. The islanders were suffering from cancer, leukaemia, birth defects and miscarriages after their return to the island by the US military, three years after their exposure to a test. The ship had also visited Kiribati and Vanuatu before arriving in Auckland.
The ship was sunk by French Secret Service (DGSE) agents, killing Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira, just days before a Greenpeace flotilla was to sail to Moruroa to protest against a nuclear blast by the French military. While the French government immediately issued flat denials of involvement in the bombing, two DGSE agents were arrested in Auckland within days. Other agents involved in the bombing were reportedly picked up by a French nuclear submarine.
A French government inquiry set up in response to the international outcry cleared the government and DGSE of any involvement, but as more evidence was gathered, a second inquiry was ordered. Following claims in the London Sunday Times that Socialist Party President Francois Mitterrand had known of and implicitly authorised the bombing, defence minister Charles Hernu resigned and DGSE director Admiral Pierre Lacoste was sacked. Within days, Prime Minister Laurent Fabius admitted that DGSE agents had committed the bombing under orders.
Charged with murder and arson, the two DGSE agents arrested in New Zealand pleaded guilty to lesser charges of manslaughter and wilful damage and were sentenced to 10 years jail.
In June 1986, in a political deal organised by UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar, France agreed to pay New Zealand's government NZ$13 million and apologise in return for the transfer of the DGSE agents to the Hao atoll French military base for three years' detention. The two agents served less than two years' detention there before returning to France.