New Zealand hopes France's new regime will warm relations

New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange hopes the change of government in Paris will pave the way for better relations, which have been icy since the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was sunk last July. But election campaign statements by France's new Prime Minister Jacques Chirac indicate it will not be easy.

Mr. Lange believes the new government will want to settle the scandal caused by the previous administration, which admitted to ordering secret agents to sink the ship before it sailed on a protest voyage against French nuclear tests in the Pacific.

Mr. Chirac said in a preelection speech last January that France owed New Zealand an apology and compensation for bombing the vessel in Auckland harbor.

But the sticking point in any settlement is bound to be the fate of two French agents, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, who are serving 10-year jail terms here for their participation in the attack. (The bombing killed one Greenpeace crew member.) Chirac, like his predecessor, former Premier Laurent Fabius, wants the two returned to France. He says that, as French Army officers, they were merely obeying orders.

Wellington says they are criminals convicted of a terrorist attack and must serve their sentences in New Zealand. France wants to buy them back, but, Lange says, ``they are not for sale.''

Talks on compensation with the Fabius government broke down last year because New Zealand, which is reportedly claiming more than $10 million in damages, refused to negotiate the agents' release as part of a settlement package.

In the last two months, France has launched a series of trade reprisals against New Zealand, apparently in retaliation for jailing the agents. French officials have moved against imports of New Zealand meat, fish, kiwi fruit, chemicals, and wool, and the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia cancelled orders for New Zealand meat and potatoes.

New Zealand is concerned that France might move to block its rights to sell butter and lamb to the European Common Market as a means of forcing Wellington to release the agents. That would hurt this tiny nation which depends heavily on trade. But Lange is adamant there will be no deals.

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