New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday she was not surprised by reports that late French president Francois Mitterrand approved the sinking of the Greenpeace flagship the Rainbow Warrior 20 years ago.
Paris newspaper Le Monde reported at the weekend that the former head of France's external spy agency, Admiral Pierre Lacoste, had said the late president had personally approved the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor.
Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira was killed in the bombing after French agents attached two mines to the ship, which was involved in protests against French nuclear testing.
"We always felt deep down that an operation like that would have to have been approved at the very highest level of the French government," Clark said in a radio interview. "It is sad to have it confirmed that it went all the way to the president."
New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said Mitterrand's authorization changed nothing.
"It doesn't change the fact that the French state carried out the only act of terrorism on New Zealand soil. It makes no difference who authorized it," he was quoted as saying in the Dominion Post newspaper.
The document by Lacoste, who was sacked over the affair, represents the first official confirmation of Mitterrand's involvement in the June 10, 1985 bombing.
The Rainbow Warrior was in Auckland to head a flotilla of protest boats to Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia in an attempt to disrupt French nuclear testing, a source of discord between France on one hand and New Zealand, Australia and other Pacific nations on the other.
In the document published by Le Monde, Lacoste described a meeting with Mitterrand at 6pm on May 15, 1985, just under two months before the attack.
"I asked the president if he would authorize me to conduct the project of neutralization that I had studied at the request of [defense minister Charles] Hernu. He gave me his consent while emphasizing the importance he placed on the nuclear tests," wrote Lacoste, then head of the General Directorate for External Security.
France was forced to admit its responsibility for the bombing by September 1985. Defense minister Charles Hernu resigned and Lacoste was sacked.
Two members of the 13-strong French secret service team which carried out the bombing, Dominique Prieur and Alain Mafart, pleaded pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in a New Zealand court and were sentenced to 10 years in jail.