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Greenpeace marks 25 years since French agents sunk 'Rainbow Warrior'


Latest update : 2010-07-10

Members of the environmental group Greenpeace gathered Saturday to mark 25 years since the sinking of their Rainbow Warrior vessel by French secret agents and to hold a memorial for crewman Fernando Pereira, who died in the incident.

AFP - Greenpeace members gathered Saturday in the Polish port city of Gdansk to mark the 25th anniversary of the sinking of their iconic flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, by French secret agents.

Ledares of the global environmental group, including executive director Kumi Naidoo, and the captain of the downed vessel Peter Willcox, assembled here, where the latest incarnation of the ship is being built.

They were due to hold a memorial ceremony for Portuguese-Dutch crewman and photographer Fernando Pereira, 35, who died when the vessel went down.

Saturday's ceremony will also see the keel-laying of the new vessel -- a traditional way to mark the start of ship construction, like laying a building's foundation stone.

After the hull is completed, the vessel will be fitted out in Germany, Greenpeace said. The ship is due to be ready by October 2011.

Shortly before midnight on July 10, 1985, French agents used underwater mines to blow holes in the hull of the Greenpeace flagship in the harbour of Auckland, New Zealand.

At the time, Greenpeace was planning a maritime protest against France's Pacific Ocean nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll, and the French secret service was tasked with stopping the Rainbow Warrior in its tracks.

The operation -- codenamed "Satanic" -- was to spiral into one of the biggest political and diplomatic scandals of the mandate of France's late president, Francois Mitterrand.

It sparked a severe crisis in relations with New Zealand and tarnished France's image in the South Pacific.

Two French agents posing as Swiss tourists were swiftly arrested by New Zealand police, but a handful of others believed to have been involved were never caught.

After initially denying responsibility, France faced itself under mounting pressure and finally acknowledged its involvement in September 1985.

That November the agents pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 10 years in jail.

But France used trade pressure to push New Zealand into accepting a July 1986 UN-brokered settlement which saw the agent transferred to what was meant to be three years of exile on an atoll in French Polynesia.

By 1988, both were back home in France, intensifying New Zealand's bitterness.

The Rainbow Warrior -- whose name comes from a North American Cree Indian prophecy -- was a converted British fisheries research trawler built in 1955 and bought by Greenpeace in 1978.

The sunken vessel was replaced in 1989 by the Rainbow Warrior II, another converted fishing vessel.

The Rainbow Warrior III is Greenpeace's first purpose-built version, and the organisation has said it will not only helm campaigns but also be a showcase of environmentally-friendly technology.


Date created : 2010-07-10


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