TONGA SILENT ON CONTRACT WITH KOREAN GROUP TO BUILD NUCLEAR WASTE PLANT

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By Michael J. Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (November 27, 1997 - Agence France-Presse)--- Tonga's Government was Thursday declining comment on a revelation that Prime Minister Baron Vaea had signed a contact with a Korean Christian cult to build a nuclear waste facility in the Kingdom.

Government spokeswoman Eseta Fusitu'a would only say that signed copies of contracts given to AFP by the Koreans were "draft copies only."

No further comment has been made on the content of the documents.

The deal raises questions over whether a so-called "Sea Water Gas Production Pilot Plant" personally endorsed by King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was a cover for the nuclear facility.

Korea and Taiwan have been major players in a proposal to use an atoll in the Marshall Islands for low-level nuclear waste storage.

Last week, Vaea admitted his government had been the victim of a South Korean affair which saw their aging king given a "world peace prize" and the setting up of a plant to convert sea-water into natural gas by the "Reverend Doctor" Han Min Su and "Doctor" Park Jun Ku.

When they swept in last year Nuku'alofa came to a stand still as they marched down the main street with Vaea and his cabinet.

The king opened their gas "pilot plant" and the government owned Tonga Chronicle photographed him with Han and Park "showing off a tiny converter to be used" in the project.

Vaea told the latest issue of the Canberra based Pacific Report newsletter he led a Tongan delegation to South Korea last year and saw the prototype machine, in action, producing natural gas from sea water.

"They said 'you provide the land and we'll provide the housing.' So they came. They came with 60 people from Korea including religious ministers and adherents to some Christian churches in Korea. They came like a crusade, preaching. They came for a week, visited places all over the country and then they went back. That was the end of it," Vaea said.

"We had the place. We had the land. We had it all prepared. We had a ground breaking ceremony and with the engineers we drew up measurements of the houses and materials required, and then they left and no engineer came."

When the story became public in Korea, Chung Chong-Bae, a director of the self-styled "Korean Unification Preparatory Council, Inc.," told AFP his group had been questioned by the foreign ministry, national intelligence agents and the police.

Chung said the authorities had "advised" them to go to the press and explain the background of their activities.

Han also provided AFP with the contracts which, in the main implementation contract, calls for: "Parties agree to establish, as an extensive business project, the Nuclear Waste Complete Burning Technology Research and Experimentation Centre in the Kingdom of Tonga upon the Sea Water Gas Pilot Plant commencing its operation with the funds invested or borrowed on the terms and conditions mutually agreed."

It said this would be subject to the approval of the Tonga Government and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The contract was signed on July 4 last year, the king's 78th birthday. A month after that contract was signed Tongan Foreign Minister Crown Prince Tupuoto'a signed the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty.

Han said the nuclear facility was "an entirely separate business item."

It would focus on looking at ways of neutralizing the unspent parts of nuclear fuel rods.

"It does not mean we will bring them actually into Tonga.... We will not bring anything into Tonga."

He said reference to the nuclear side of the deal should be dropped from any debate with the Koreans.

"For the sake of peace of this matter you must drop this nuclear waste issue.... We are not try to bring any left over waste into Tonga."

He said Tonga was to have provided an island for the project.

He denied that the scheme was dead, saying Vaea was not involved in the deal. He said they were dealing with "a religious man" close to the king.

Michael J Field

Agence France-Presse,

Auckland,

NEW ZEALAND

Tel (64 21) 688438 Fax (64 21) 694035

afp.nz@clear.net.nz

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