France Denies Any Role in Ship Sinking : Report on Greenpeace Blast 'Incredible,' New Zealand Says

Times Staff Writer

A special investigator appointed on orders of President Francois Mitterrand exonerated the French government and its secret intelligence agency Monday of accusations that French agents blew up the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in the harbor at Auckland, New Zealand, on July 10.

Bernard Tricot acknowledged, however, that all of the people arrested or sought by New Zealand police in connection with the explosion are French intelligence agents.

In Wellington, New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange condemned the report, calling its findings "utterly incredible . . . worse than just lacking in credibility." The report, he said early today, "paints a completely false picture which cannot be sustained according to the evidence (Tricot) has."

Lange said Tricot completely ignored evidence given him by New Zealand authorities, Reuters news agency reported. Lange suggested that France recall its ambassador and apologize for the sinking.

Photographer Killed

In rejecting French agents' involvement in the blast, which killed a Portuguese photographer, Tricot said, "All that I have heard and seen makes me certain that no decision was taken at the government level aimed at damaging the Rainbow Warrior."

Tricot, former chief of staff in the presidential offices of Charles de Gaulle, admitted that many clues pointed to the five agents, but he insisted that he believes that they are innocent.

Tricot said he did not interview a sixth intelligence agent who had infiltrated the Greenpeace organization in Auckland. He said she had left New Zealand in late May, long before the environmental organization's ship came to Auckland.

He said the agents were sent to New Zealand to gather information on the ship and a protest flotilla it was planning to lead into the French nuclear testing site at Mururoa Atoll in the South Pacific.

"There is no reason to think . . . that the General Directorate of External Security (the French intelligence agency) gave its agents in New Zealand instructions other than those aimed at implementing the government's directives," Tricot said.

Just as Lange rejected its findings, the report is unlikely to quiet the political furor in France.

Francois Leotard, leader of the opposition Republican Party, said he was stupefied to find no blame put on the French intelligence agency.

Alain Madelin, a conservative deputy in the National Assembly, said, "The report takes the French people for imbeciles. . . . (It) would have us believe that the government sends frogmen out when it needs photos."

Tricot identified one of the two people now under arrest in New Zealand on charges of murder, arson and possession of false passports as Maj. Alain Marfart, 34, who, he said, was qualified as a frogman but had not worked as one for two years. Also under arrest was Capt. Dominique Prieur, 36, who traveled with Marfart to New Zealand, the two posing as a Swiss couple.

Tricot identified other agents who were described as frogmen from the intelligence agency's frogman school in Corsica. He said they were crewmen aboard the sailboat Ouvea, which, he added, was in Auckland harbor July 7-9.

Tricot concluded that the French frogmen were not in Auckland harbor long enough to attach to the hull of the Rainbow Warrior the limpet mines that sank the vessel.

According to Tricot, their mission was to gather information about the Greenpeace flotilla and study the possibility of joining the protest vessels in future campaigns.

"The reasons to suppose that they were the authors of the attack are not negligible," Tricot said.

"The most troubling consideration," he said, is that it is difficult for many people to think of anyone else who might have done it. To come up with another theory, he added, one has to conclude that the act of terrorism was perpetrated by private individuals acting out of political passion or by intelligence agents of another government intent on harming Greenpeace and embarrassing France.

3 Surrender to Police

The three frogmen, who are wanted by the New Zealand police, turned themselves over to the French police in Paris on Monday at Tricot's suggestion. They were released after the French prosecutor said that New Zealand has not yet supplied detailed reasons for its request that they be arrested.

Lange maintained that the three men were not made available for questioning by New Zealand detectives in Paris.

"This is not the conduct of a civilized country which has already corrupted the sovereignty of a friendly country, New Zealand, and now appears to be engaged in obstructionism," Lange was quoted as saying.

Greenpeace Chairman David McTaggart said in London "that any attempt to deny a relationship between the presence of six French government agents in New Zealand and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior cannot be considered credible."

In Auckland, Greenpeace international director Steve Sawyer said his group is studying ways of starting legal action in France to seek compensation for the loss of the ship.

Calling the report "very peculiar," Sawyer said, "I sincerely doubt that the decision to (sink the ship) was taken at anything other than a political level."

Tricot, 65, a member of the Council of State, a prestigious body with judicial functions, was named by Premier Laurent Fabius two weeks ago after Mitterrand ordered the investigation. The president said that any guilty French officials, "at whatever level they are found, must be severely punished."

But Tricot accepted the assertions of all of the top Paris officials involved that the French agents were ordered only to gather information about the Rainbow Warrior's plans, not to use use violent means to prevent the vessel from setting out.

And Tricot said he does not believe that the agents on the scene misinterpreted their orders or acted on their own to blow up the ship.

In his 29-page report, Tricot acknowledged that many of the French government's conversations and orders in the case were oral, not written, especially those between Defense Minister Charles Hernu and Adm. Pierre Lacoste, director of the intelligence agency. He also admitted that he was troubled that a government memorandum listed, as one of France's official aims, the phrase "to anticipate the actions of Greenpeace."

Tricot said that the verb to anticipate, in French, could have the sense of to get ahead of or to prevent. But, after meeting with the official who wrote the memorandum, Tricot said that he was satisfied no violent acts against the Rainbow Warrior were intended.

In the report, Tricot noted that the announcement of Greenpeace's 1985 campaign "irritated a large number of military officers and civilians involved in nuclear testing." But he insisted that the French government had no reason to go beyond its past practice of simply stopping Greenpeace ships from entering the French nuclear testing zone. The environmental and disarmament organization, founded in Canada, first began protest voyages into the zone in 1970.

Nevertheless, at the request of the head of the nuclear testing site, Tricot said, the French government agreed to intensify its intelligence about Greenpeace this year.

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