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Royal 'Surprised' By Fuss Over Brother's Role In Rainbow Warrior Sinking

I guess they don't call it the "soccer ball" in French. French socialist Segolene Royal. Photo courtesy of Michel Gangne and AFP.
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Oct 01, 2006
French presidential hopeful Segolene Royal said on Sunday she was "a bit surprised" at the fuss being made over her brother Gerard's involvement in the 1985 sinking of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship. A Paris newspaper Friday had quoted Antoine Royal, another brother of the likely French centre-left presidential candidate, as saying Gerard himself had planted the limpet mines that sank the ship.

At the time, Gerard Royal was an agent of the French DGSE secret services, which attacked the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour to stop it travelling to France's Pacific Mururoa Atoll to protest against nuclear testing there.

Segolene Royal is the favourite to secure the French Socialist Party's nomination as its presidential candidate for 2007 in an internal ballot next month. She officially entered the race on Friday.

On Sunday Royal told a meeting of Socialist party activists: "I am a bit surprised at all this controversy springing up just after I declared my candidature. I don't know if it's a coincidence."

She added that if there was anything new to be said about the matter, the defence ministry should say it, and that she admired her brother Gerard, who was at one time a combat swimmer with the DGSE, as "a great soldier".

Codenamed operation SATANIC, the July 1985 attack saw mines planted on the sides of the Rainbow Warrior and quickly sank it, killing photographer Fernando Pereira, one of 11 people on board.

A specialist close to those involved -- who asked not to be named -- Sunday contradicted Antoine Royal's story by saying that Gerard Royal had merely piloted the dinghy which took two other frogmen to plant the explosives.

Two French agents -- Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur -- were arrested after the incident and jailed for manslaughter by a New Zealand court, but police never found the two others they suspected were also involved.

A New Zealand television network was expected Sunday evening to broadcast film of Mafart and Prieur pleading guilty, after the Supreme Court dismissed an attempt by the agents to block the screening.

In response to the new revelations, New Zealand police said they would look again at the Rainbow Warrior file, but their spokeswoman said it was too early to say what action, if any, would be taken.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Helen Clark, meanwhile, said that all outstanding charges had been stayed in 1991 on grounds of national interest.

The French lawyer who defended the agents confirmed this on Sunday, calling the latest controversy a "non-story".

The Rainbow Warrior affair led to a major diplomatic spat between France and New Zealand, with the former eventually threatening to block trade with the South Pacific country if the French agents were not returned to French territory -- as they were following a settlement in 1986.

It was one of the biggest controversies of the late Francois Mitterrand's first term as French president, though it was only revealed last year that Mitterrand himself gave the go-ahead for the action. Segolene Royal served as an adviser to Mitterrand from 1982 to 1988.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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