Without apologizing, Macron says Paris is ‘debt’ to French Polynesia for nuclear tests

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French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that Paris owed “a debt” to French Polynesia for nuclear tests conducted in the South Pacific between 1966 and 1996, but has stopped apologizing.

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

“The nation is indebted to French Polynesia. This debt stems from the conduct of these tests, especially those between 1966 and 1974.”

The legacy of French testing in the area remains a source of deep resentment and is seen as evidence of racist colonial attitudes that ignored the lives of the locals.

The tests were conducted from 1966 to 1996 when France developed nuclear weapons.

Officials denied any cover-up of radiation exposure earlier this month after the French research website Disclose reported in March that the impact of the fallout was much greater than authorities had acknowledged, citing declassified French military documents.

Macron echoed the sentiments in his comments on Tuesday.

“I want to make it clear to you that the army that carried them out did not lie to you. They took the same risks… There were no lies, there were risks that were not calculated, not even by the military.”

“I think it is true that we would not have done the same tests in La Creuse or in Brittany,” he said, referring to regions in France.

Macron says France is ‘debt’ to French Polynesia

asks for apologies

Prior to 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 radiation victims.

Only 63 Polynesian citizens have been compensated for radiation exposure since the tests ended in 1996, Disclose said, estimating that a total of more than 100,000 people may be infected with leukemia, lymphoma and other cancers.

“We expect an apology from the president,” Auguste Uebe-Carlson, head of the 193 Nuclear Test Victims’ Association, said ahead of Macron’s visit.

“Just as he has 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 associated with nuclear energy here in the Pacific.”

At a meeting with Macron on Tuesday on the island of Moorea, Lena Lenormand, the vice president of the association, renewed the call.

“There are urgent demands, people who are suffering. We ask you to acknowledge what the state has done to these Polynesian people, for an apology and real support,” she told Macron.

“We can’t help but think you’re at the end of your term, so words are one thing, but what’s concretely done after that?” she said to Macron.

In response, Macron said he was “committed to changing things up” regarding compensation.

“I have heard you, and I have heard what you ask of me, and you will see my answer.”

In his speech, Macron said progress had been made in claiming compensation since his election in 2017, but admitted that this was not enough and said the deadline for filing claims would be extended.

(AFP)