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WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 23, 1998 - PACNEWS)---Washington has assured a delegation from Bikini atoll in the Marshall Islands that it will continue its nuclear cleanup and resettlement effort after the initial United States-Republic of the Marshall Islands Compact of Free Association expires in three years.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt made the pledge after meeting with the delegation, headed by Bikini Mayor Tomaki Juda, on Wednesday.

The U.S. also agreed to provide funding to purchase a water making unit to ease the cost of obtaining potable water on Kili and Jaluit, the two main islands were the Bikinians live in exile.

The initial 15 year Compact that grants the Marshall Islands free association status with the United States is due to expire in three years. Formal renegotiations regarding a possible new Compact will begin next year.

Bikini was used as a nuclear test site by the U.S. between 1946-1958, and was left heavily contaminated by radiation.

American scientists have said it would be possible for the former inhabitants of the atoll to safely return to their homeland after a $US 120 million cleanup operation. A previous re-settlement in the 1970s was quickly abandoned because people were found to be ingesting radioactive material from locally grown vegetables and fruits.

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