French President Emmanuel Macron was greeted with flower garlands and Tahitian dancers on the tarmac as he landed on Saturday evening for his first official trip to French Polynesia.
While in the South Pacific Territory, he plans to discuss his strategic role, the legacy of nuclear testing and the existential risk of rising seas posed by global warming.
Residents of the sprawling archipelago of more than 100 islands halfway between Mexico and Australia hope Macron confirms compensation for radiation victims after decades of nuclear testing as France pursued atomic weapons .
The tests remain a source of deep resentment, seen as evidence of racist colonial attitudes that scorn the lives of islanders.
“During this visit, the president intends to establish a strong and transparent dialogue by encouraging several concrete steps, on the history with the opening of the archives of the State as well as the individual compensation”, declared a French presidential official, who requested anonymity.
French officials have denied any cover-up of radiation exposure during a meeting earlier this month with delegates from the semi-autonomous territory led by President Edouard Fritch.
The meeting came after investigative site Disclose reported in March that the impact of the fallout was far greater than authorities recognized, citing declassified French military documents on the nearly 200 tests.
# photo1 Only 63 Polynesian civilians have been compensated for radiation exposure since testing ended in 1996, Disclose said.
Macron, who arrived in the South Pacific after a visit to the Tokyo Olympics, will also present his strategic vision for the strategically valuable territory, where China has made no secret of its desire for military and commercial domination.
One of the three French territories in the Pacific, French Polynesia has around 280,000 inhabitants spread over a vast strip of archipelagos covering an area comparable to that of Western Europe.
Tahiti is the most densely populated of the islands.
Macron “will present the Indo-Pacific strategy and the position that France intends to maintain in this increasingly polarized area,” said the Elysee official.
Macron also plans to tackle risks to the islands from rising sea levels as well as cyclones which some scientists believe could become more dangerous due to climate change.
But his first visit will be with hospital workers running to fight rising Covid-19 cases with vaccines.
Many Polynesians remain wary of jabs, with only 29% of adults vaccinated, against nearly 49% in France as a whole.
© 2021 AFP