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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (August 4, 1999 – Marshall Islands Journal)---The United States must deliver on promises of an $18 million development fund and to resolve squalid living conditions for islanders relocated for missile tests before negotiations on a new Compact of Free Association begin in three months, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Phillip Muller told mayors representing 24 local governments meeting in Majuro during the weekend.

Negotiations for a new economic package to underwrite a long-term defense treaty are set to begin in October between the Marshalls and Washington. But Muller said it’s "only fair" that the U.S. addresses unresolved issues from the existing Compact before discussions on a new agreement take place.

"It’s a fair question from our side," Muller told the mayors’ meeting. "Before we start negotiations, we need action on the current Compact."

The Compact of Free Association provided the U.S. with exclusive military control of the 800,000 square kilometers (320,000 square miles) of ocean area that make up the Marshalls and use of a billion dollar missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll in exchange for funding for government operations, economic development, missile range land rentals and nuclear compensation. While the defense provisions of the Compact continue indefinitely, most of the U.S. economic assistance ends in 2001 and the talks starting later this year will negotiate a new economic package.

Muller said the current Compact obligated the U.S. to provide a $20 million development fund and essential air services. But with just two years left to go on the 15-year initial phase of the Compact, the U.S. has injected just $2 million into the fund and an essential air services agreement has expired, both of which are curtailing economic development in the Marshalls, he said.

"The U.S. agreed to provide for a minimum level of air service," he said. But air service by the only U.S. air carrier to service the Marshalls -- Continental Micronesia -- has dropped below the minimum needed, "a problem that is holding back development," Muller said. The lack of air service is causing problems for tourists, freight and travel by local residents, he added.

(NOTE: Honolulu-based Aloha Airlines has announced that it will begin weekly service to the Republic of the Marshall Islands, with stops at Majuro and Kwajalein, beginning September 2, 1999.)

Muller said the plight of islanders moved from their home islands in Kwajalein Atoll to make way for American missile testing is a major concern. In the early 1960s, about 400 islanders from the "mid-corridor" islands in Kwajalein’s vast boomerang-shaped necklace of coral islands were moved to Ebeye Island so that U.S. missiles fired from California could splash down in the center of Kwajalein’s lagoon.

There are now about 3,000 mid-corridor people, crowded into the same housing on Ebeye built to accommodate 300 in the 1960s, Muller said. Their living conditions have deteriorated and the Marshalls wants the U.S. to address this festering problem, he said.

The other concern the Marshalls has before negotiations get started is what Muller described as the "grossly inadequate" nuclear compensation and medical treatment for nuclear test-affected islanders. The Compact "did not provide enough compensation for personal injuries and land damages, or for health care," Muller said.

The Marshall Islands will be submitting a formal petition to the U.S. Congress in September asking the Congress to support expanded medical care and compensation programs for Marshall Islanders affected by the 67 American nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s, Muller added.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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