Brussels (Brussels Morning) Addressing the key issue of his official visit to French Polynesia, France’s President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that Paris owes a debt for the nuclear tests conducted there over three decades in the Southern Pacific atolls, but made no apology for what was done.
Macron is visiting the French Pacific territory as part of his “Tour de France” ahead of the presidential elections next year. Having arrived on Saturday evening, he waited until Tuesday to address the primary concern of many Polynesians.
Seeking to develop nuclear capacities on its own, France used the Polynesian territories to test its nuclear devices between 1966 and 1996. After initial tests in Algeria between 1960 and 1966, France proceeded to detonate nearly 200 nuclear devices near the Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls in French Polynesia.
While French authorities deny that any cover-up of radiation exposure took place, the French investigative outlet Disclose reported in March that the fallout from the testing – with nearly 50 devices detonated in the atmosphere during the French testing programme – was much more extensive than the authorities had admitted.
Macron said on Tuesday that the nation owes a debt to Polynesia, in allowing the need for “truth and transparency”. He conceded that the military would not have performed the same tests “in La Creuse or in Brittany”. He acknowledged the resentment Polynesians felt over the colonialist attitude that prevailed during the testing period.
The President insisted, however, that there had been no cover-up, stressing that the military did not lie to the people of French Polynesia, and that the military personnel performing the tests faced the same risks as the local population. “There were no lies, there were risks that weren’t calculated, including by the military”, Macron stated.
Macron’s attitude on Tuesday largely mirrored his previous efforts at confronting the darker periods of France’s history. Earlier this year, Macron refused to apologise to Algeria for abuses committed during the colonial era. Similarly, during his visit to Rwanda in May, Macron did not apologise for the French role in the 1994 genocide, although he did say he came to “recognise our responsibilities”.