Thursday December 02, 2021

Paris owes French Polynesia ‘a debt’

July 29, 2021

Papeete: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that Paris owed "a debt" to French Polynesia over nuclear tests conducted in the South Pacific territory between 1966 and 1996, but stopped short of apologising.

"I want truth and transparency," Macron said in a speech to Polynesian officials during his first official trip to the territory, adding that there should be better compensation for victims of the tests.

"The nation owes a debt to French Polynesia. This debt is from having conducted these tests, in particular those between 1966 and 1974." The legacy of French testing in the territory remains a source of deep resentment and is seen as evidence of racist colonial attitudes that disregarded the lives of locals.

The tests were conducted from 1966 to 1996 as France developed nuclear weapons. Officials denied any cover-up of radiation exposure earlier this month after French investigative website Disclose reported in March that the impact from the fallout was far more extensive than authorities had acknowledged, citing declassified French military documents.

Macron echoed the sentiments in his remarks on Tuesday. "I want to tell you clearly that the military who carried them out did not lie to you. They took the same risks... There were no lies, there were risks that weren’t calculated, including by the military."

"I think it’s true that we would not have done the same tests in La Creuse or in Brittany," he said, referring to regions inside France. Ahead of Macron’s four-day visit, residents in the sprawling archipelago of more than 100 islands located midway between Mexico and Australia were hoping that Macron would apologise and announce compensation for radiation victims.

Only 63 Polynesian civilians have been compensated for radiation exposure since the tests ended in 1996, Disclose said, estimating that more than 100,000 people may have been contaminated in total, with leukaemia, lymphoma and other cancers rife.