France threatened with further embarrassment over Greenpeace

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The French government is threatened with further embarrassment despite an independent investigation which exonerated it in the sinking of a protest ship belonging to the pacifist organization Greenpeace. Next month a Greenpeace flotilla plans to protest the resumption of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. President Franois Mitterrand has ordered the French Army to prevent any entry into the restricted zone, ``by force if necessary.''

French diplomats worry that a possible confrontation with the pacifists will make Paris appear a bully.

New Zealand authorities are planning to try French secret service agents Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart in November. The two are accused of mining the Rainbow Warrior on July 10. If the New Zealand police produce fresh evidence implicating the French secret services, then President Mitterrand stands accused of either authorizing the sabotage operation or of covering it up.

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In the report released last week, French investigator Bernard Tricot found that while Ms. Prieur, Mr. Mafart, and four other French secret service agents had been sent to spy on Greenpeace in New Zealand, their orders were not to engage in sabotage. Tricot's conclusions gave French officials the benefit of the doubt.

However, questions have arisen over his findings concerning three men who chartered a yacht in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. Tricot identified them as French secret service agents whose mission was to gather information. A New Zealand newspaper reported that laboratory tests on samples from the yacht showed that it had recently been carrying explosives.

These revelations have torn France apart. Many observers, from all shades of the political spectrum, say there is more French involvement than Tricot's report reveals. And the government is under attack for bringing ridicule on France.

But these new attacks are not exactly what one would expect. A majority of the French regard nuclear testing in the Pacific as crucial to France's national security. They consider it ``normal'' that the secret services take action to protect this national interest.

Thus, most conservatives find themselves in an uncomfortable position. They especially criticize Mitterrand for bungling the job. But former President Val'ery Giscard d'Estaing's short comment, ``My country, right or wrong,'' more accurately represents the conservatives' position.

The moral indignation which has surfaced comes from the Communist Party -- which condemned ``state terrorism,'' -- and from Mitterrand's own socialists. Socialist Party deputy secretary Jean Poperen said, ``further clarifications are in order.''

Prime Minister Laurent Fabius has promised clarifications and proposals to remedy ``important deficiencies'' in the French secret services. But he faces an almost impossible task in fulfilling these pledges. If he purges the secret services, the opposition will say that the government itself should take responsibility for the affair. If Fabius does nothing, the Socialists will say he is condoning a criminal act. Either path is likely to hurt the government, analysts say. Parliamentary electi ons are due next March, and if the Greenpeace affair continues to escalate, the final damage may show up at the polls.

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