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By Benhur C. Saladores

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 15, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---The Northern Marianas is ready to bill the federal government about $200,000 as an initial request for reimbursement of costs associated with the hosting of more than 500 illegal Chinese immigrants on Tinian. But the island government has estimated a total of $599,000 in expenditures, which it incurred during the two-month operation assisting U.S. authorities, according to Department of Finance Secretary Lucy D.L.G. Nielsen.

Finance has compiled all the records and documents from all government agencies involved in the operation, but it is currently trying to finalize these papers before the Commonwealth asks for reimbursement from Washington.

"We are ready to submit billings of approximately $200,000 for two boats, based on the documents we have reconciled," Nielsen told legislators during a budget hearing yesterday.

These charges will cover the cost of the first two boatloads of undocumented aliens, who were sent to Tinian last April after the U.S. Coast Guard caught them attempting to enter Guam illegally.

Nielsen did not provide a breakdown of the billings, saying only that the total amount included purchase orders and overtime for CNMI personnel stationed at the two temporary shelter camps set up by federal authorities on Tinian.

"What we did was we went back and we looked at what we have paid. We dealt only with the first boat and second boat," she said during an interview after the hearing.

"We have already reconciled that and so a letter to request reimbursement will be going out this week.

"And I hope that it will be signed by the Governor," added Nielsen.

Although the last group of illegal immigrants left Tinian on June 20, CNMI officials are taking time to determine the amount of reimbursement to ensure that they have the documents to back up their claims.

"The Governor wants to do it as soon as possible, but because of the reconciliation, we wanted to make sure that what we request is really supported," Nielsen pointed out.

The Departments of Labor and Immigration, Public Safety and Public Works, as well as Public Health and the Public School System have included their unpaid charges in the report, which will be handed over to Washington officials in the next few weeks.

The federal government promised to reimburse the CNMI after it established the Tinian holding camps for the undocumented aliens. At least four boats were towed to the island before repatriation began for the aliens last month. They are believed to be victims of a human smuggling syndicate operating in China, primarily in Fujian province.

At least two dozen suspected ringleaders caught aboard the boats have been charged in federal court and one has pleaded guilty to a felony offense.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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