UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar has settled the year-long dispute between France and New Zealand over the bombing of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbor. In accord with Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar's decision, which was released simultaneously in Paris and Wellington yesterday, two French secret service agents will be moved to French military custody on a remote atoll in the South Pacific within the next three weeks.
The agents, who had been sentenced by a New Zealand court to 10 years' imprisonment here for their part in the ship's bombing, will stay on the atoll for at least three years, P'erez de Cu'eller ruled. The two countries had asked the Secretary-General to mediate their differences after bilateral negotiations had broken down on the fate of the two agents. France and New Zealand agreed to accept the Secretary-General's ruling as binding.
The ruling came just three days before the first anniversary of the attack on the Greenpeace vessel, which was sunk by two bombs last July 10. One person was killed in the attack. The ship was preparing to sail on a protest voyage to France's underground nuclear testing site at Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific. The French government subsequently confirmed that the vessel had been sunk by its secret service agents and said that, as Army officers, the agents had been acting under orders and should be repatriated to France.
In what New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange described as an ``exquisite irony,'' the French agents -- a man and a woman -- will be confined on Hao Atoll, about 150 miles from Mururoa and 500 miles from Tahiti. The French nuclear test site's main airstrip facility, including an 11,000-foot runway, is on Hao.
P'erez de Cu'ellar said he had chosen the site after having sought information on French military facilities outside Europe. The New Zealand government had agreed to let them go to the atoll, providing there was no ``release to freedom.''
Hao is off limits to civilians except for the native population, and most of the 1,000 people on the 30-mile-long coral atoll are military personnel. P'erez de Cu'ellar's ruling forbids the agents to have contacts with anyone but military people, family, and friends.
At a press conference Monday night, Prime Minister Lange hotly rejected suggestions that the agents, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, were being freed despite constant assurances he had made in the past that they would not be.
``They would be incarcerated'' on a very remote staging post in the Pacific, he said. ``There will be no fraternization with the local people, there are no bars or restaurants.''
There was no immediate public reaction to yesterday's announcement, but a national opinion poll published in May showed that about four out of five New Zealanders felt the agents should serve their full 10-year terms in this country.