FRENCH MINISTER INVITES CRITICS TO MORUROA TEST SITE

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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Feb. 7) – The French defense minister has invited Tahiti's elected officials to visit the Tuamotu atoll of Moruroa - the former site for nuclear tests - in April in order to take the heat out of the debate over the consequences of eight years of atmospheric testing.

The invitation was the banner front-page headline in Monday's French daily newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti, which printed a copy of Defense Minister Michele Allio-Marie's invitation inside. The invitation was contained in a letter written to French Polynesia National Assembly Deputy Béatrice Vernaudon.

Besides Tahiti's elected officials, the invitation to visit Moruroa during the second half of April also was extended to the Polynesian associations and the news media. That was an apparent reference to such groups as the Moruroa E Tatou Association, which has campaigned for greater transparency by the French State with regards to the effects of the atmospheric and underground testing conducted from 1966 to 1996.

The French defense minister also called on French High Commissioner Anne Bouquet in Tahiti to name a mediator from Tahiti to facilitate a dialog between the various involved interests.

Word of the French defense minister's invitation comes three days before a special French Polynesia Assembly inquiry committee is due to make public on Thursday the contents of its six-month probe into the consequences of the 41 French nuclear atmospheric tests conducted from 1966 to 1974 on Moruroa and the adjacent Tuamotu atoll of Fangataufa. The two atolls are located 1,200 kilometers (720 miles) southeast of Papeéte. France also conducted 140 underground tests at the two atolls.

The Assembly has allocated 120 minutes Thursday for members of the Temaru government and the opposition to discuss the inquiry committee's work, which involves a report of 400 pages.

Defense Minister Alliot-Marie pointed out in her letter that her Defense Ministry and the French Atomic Energy Commission plan to publish an overall report on French nuclear testing in the Pacific and their radiological consequences this fall.

Meanwhile, an inter-ministerial liaison committee dealing with the coordination of public health follow-ups from the French nuclear tests is due to make its first recommendations to the French government this year, the defense minister's letter indicated.

The head of the local inquiry committee is Assembly member Unutea Hirshon, who is also head of the Assembly's Standing Committee, a key member of the Temaru government's Union for Democracy majority coalition in the Assembly and a key member of French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru's independence political party.

However, National Assembly Deputy Vernaudon was elected as a member of the pro-France political party headed by former French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse. She recently wrote a letter to the defense minister after some of the key parts of the inquiry committee's reportedly secret report were leaked to the local news media, resulting in front-page headlines about the island of Tahiti having been subjected to radioactive fallout from each of France's atmospheric tests.

France halted all nuclear testing on the two Tuamotu atolls in 1996, dismantling the testing facilities. But the French Defense Ministry and French military are still in charge of the two atolls.

On Monday, Hirshon said of her committee's work, "This report is not a finality, but a preliminary study. She noted that her committee could not have access to all information on the nuclear testing consequences. The French military refused to open its files, while the two atoll testing sites could not be visited," she said.

Yet, Hirshon claimed, "There are strong chances that all the atmospheric tests caused fallout" throughout French Polynesia.

In her letter to Deputy Vernaudon, Defense Minister Alliot-Marie mentioned Monday's scheduled arrival in Tahiti of Marcel Jurien de la Gravière, an official with France's Delegation for Nuclear Safety and Radioprotection for Activities and Installations Relating to Defense. His initial objective is to continue a dialogue with local officials initiated last April and continued last October.

That dialogue is to continue until the end of this year, highlighted by an April visit to the islands close to the nuclear testing sites in order to inform the people living on those nearby islands about radiological data from tests, the defense minister stated in her letter.

[PIR editor’s note: The French Polynesia Assembly claims that France minimized and even covered up the effects of the 41 atmospheric tests conducted between 1966 and 1974 at the Tuamotu atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa (read the story).]

February 8, 2006

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