France owes French Polynesia 'a debt' over nuclear tests: Macron

France's President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech prior to his departure on the final day of his visit in Papeete, French Polynesia on July 27, 2021.

Papeete, France | French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that Paris owed "a debt" to French Polynesia over nuclear tests conducted in the South Pacific territory between 1966 and 1996, but stopped short of apologising.

"I want truth and transparency," Macron said in a speech to Polynesian officials, adding that there should be better compensation for victims of the tests.

"The nation owes a debt to French Polynesia. This debt is from having conducted these tests, in particular those between 1966 and 1974."

The legacy of French testing in the territory remains a source of deep resentment and is seen as evidence of racist colonial attitudes that disregarded the lives of locals.

Ahead of Macron's visit, residents in the sprawling archipelago of more than 100 islands located midway between Mexico and Australia were hoping that Macron would apologise and announces compensation for radiation victims.

The tests were conducted from 1966 to 1996 as France developed nuclear weapons. 

Officials denied any cover-up of radiation exposure earlier this month after French investigative website Disclose reported in March that the impact from the fallout was far more extensive than authorities had acknowledged, citing declassified French military documents.

Only 63 Polynesian civilians have been compensated for radiation exposure since the tests ended in 1996, Disclose said, estimating that more than 100,000 people may have been contaminated in total, with leukaemia, lymphoma and other cancers rife.

© Agence France-Presse

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