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French Rainbow Warrior bomber breaks 30-year silence

Memorial to the Rain Warrior in Matauri Bay, Northland, New Zealand.
Memorial to the Rain Warrior in Matauri Bay, Northland, New Zealand. Gadfium

The French secret service frogman who attached the mines which sank the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand 30 years ago apologised for his actions in an interview Sunday with French investigative website Mediapart. He also talked about the operation in an interview with a New Zealand TV channel.


The Greenpeace flagship was preparing to head to sea to protest against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll, around 1,200 kilometres southeast of Tahiti.

But the ship was attacked in Auckland Harbour by France's intelligence agency, the DGSE, on 10 July 1985, in an exercise codenamed Opération Satanique.

Jean-Luc Kister, whose face was not covered in Mediapart's hour-long video interview, told the website he believed it was now the right time to say sorry to the family of Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira, who was killed in the explosion, to Greenpeace and to the people of New Zealand.

Kister, who led the dive team and was a captain at the time, says that while he planted and set the bombs he did not have overall command of the mission.

"There was a willingness at a high level to say: this has to end once and for all, we need to take radical measures. We were told we had to sink it. Well, it's simple to sink a boat, you have to put a hole in it," Kister told Mediapart.

Kister was part of the "third team", whose mission was to attach two large limpet mines to the hull of the converted trawler, working with fellow frogman Jean Camas.

A third member of the team, Gerard Royal, a brother of France's current Environment Minister and former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, picked up the two men in a dinghy after the covert operation.

Two days after the bombing, two of the agents who took part - Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, who had posed as a couple of Swiss tourists - were arrested by New Zealand police and their identities revealed.

Mafart and Prieur were charged with murder, eventually pleading guilty to manslaughter and receiving 10-year jail terms. But they were freed within months under a deal that sparked almost as much anger in New Zealand as the bombing.

The scandal rocked the French government, at the time led by current Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius under Socialist François Mitterrand's presidency. 

It led to defence minister Charles Hernu's resignation and the sacking of DGSE chief Pierre Lacoste.

"It was just like using boxing gloves in order to crush a mosquito. It was a disproportionate operation, but we had to obey the order, we were soldiers," Kister said in an interview for the This week Sunday television show on TVNZ

Even though the operation sank the Rainbow Warrior it was a "big fail", he concluded.

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