French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that Paris owed “a debt” to French Polynesia for the nuclear tests carried out in the territory of the South Pacific between 1966 and 1996, without however apologizing.
“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 has just carried out these tests, in particular those between 1966 and 1974. “
The legacy of the French tests on the territory remains a source of deep resentment and is seen as proof of racist colonial attitudes which scorn the lives of the inhabitants.
The tests were carried out from 1966 to 1996 while France was developing nuclear weapons.
Authorities denied any cover-up of radiation exposure earlier this month after French investigative site Disclose reported in March that the impact of the fallout was far greater than authorities had recognized, citing declassified French military documents.
Macron echoed the sentiments in his remarks on Tuesday.
“I want to make it clear to you that the soldiers who executed them did not lie to you. They took the same risks… There were no lies, there were risks that were not calculated, including by the military. “
“I think it’s true that we wouldn’t have done the same tests in Creuse or Brittany,” he said, referring to regions inside France.
– Apology appeals –
Ahead of Macron’s four-day visit, residents of the sprawling archipelago of more than 100 islands halfway between Mexico and Australia hoped Macron would apologize and announce compensation for the radiation victims.
Only 63 Polynesian civilians have been compensated for radiation exposure since testing ended in 1996, Disclose said, estimating that more than 100,000 people may have been infected in total, with leukemias, lymphomas and other cancers.
“We are awaiting an apology from the president,” said Auguste Uebe-Carlson, president of the 193 Association of Victims of Nuclear Tests, before Macron’s visit.
“Just as he recognized the colonization that took place in Algeria as a crime, we also expect him to declare that it was criminal and that it is a form of colonization linked to nuclear power. here in the Pacific.
Met Tuesday by Macron on the island of Moorea, Lena Lenormand, the vice-president of the association, renewed the call.
“There are urgent demands, people who are suffering. You are asked to take responsibility for what the state has done to these Polynesian people, with an apology and real support, ”she told Macron.
“We can’t help but think that you’re at the end of your term, so words are one thing, but after that, what will we do concretely?” She said to Macron.
In response, Macron said he was “committed to making a difference” on compensation.
“I heard you, and I heard what you ask me, and you will see my answer. ”
In his speech, Macron said that since his election in 2017 there had been some progress in compensation claims, but he admitted that was not enough and said the deadline for filing claims would be extended. .
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© 2021 AFP