France has handed Algeria details of radioactive leaks from nuclear tests in the Algerian desert in the 1960s and should have acted earlier to clean up the damage, France's ambassador in its former colony said.
Algerian commentators say French foot-dragging in acknowledging harm was caused by the tests and compensating victims has slowed efforts to improve relations between the two countries since a traumatic war for independence.
Algerian and French army veterans who visited a test site last year said local people became ill after the blasts, some of which were carried out under an agreement with the first Algerian government after independence in 1962.
France has denied any wrongdoing during its Saharan tests and says a report by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) specialists who toured the sites in 1999 found that none of the sites was likely to expose people to levels in excess of international safety norms.
Of 13 underground tests carried out in Algeria between 1960 and 1966, Ambassador Bernard Bajolet said four saw incidents in which radioactive gas leaked out.
"We have handed over plans showing the extent of the nuclear pollution provoked by the tests," Bajolet said in an interview published on Algerian newspaper El Khabar's French-language Web site on Wednesday.
"We are ready to carry out a new study and contribute to the clean-up and purification, even if we should have done that earlier."
He said France was waiting for Algeria to reply to proposals it made after the IAEA called for the redevelopment of areas affected by the tests.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has pushed for a new start in ties with Algeria. In October France moved to resolve another obstacle to better relations when it handed over details of where its forces laid millions of landmines half a century ago.
Algerian newspapers regularly report deaths and injuries of people who inadvertently step on independence-era landmines.
Bajolet said Algeria had never asked officially for maps locating the mines and that France had decided unilaterally to hand them over.
"The decision came very late. I don't personally understand why they were not handed over after independence," he said. "President Sarkozy has also taken a positive decision to care for those injured and crippled by the mines."
Güncelleme Tarihi: 27 Şubat 2008, 17:58