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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 31, 2000 – Saipan Tribune)---Saying they should be allowed to go back to the Northern Islands despite the threat of a volcanic eruption, Mayor Joseph Ogumoro yesterday has asked the Board of Public Lands to help his constituents acquire permits for homestead lots.

In his appeal, Mayor Ogumoro said their deeds to property would at least serve as assurances that the residents will not become squatters in their own islands.

Mr. Ogumoro said they should be permitted to co-exist with nature and live with the dangers of the volcano just like the residents of the Big Island in Hawai‘i.

However, Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio recently extended anew the declaration of disaster emergency in Alamagan in the wake of the continued threat of a major volcanic eruption in the tiny island north of Saipan.

The request of the Northern Islands official was made after the House of Representatives adopted a resolution supporting the residents’ requests for permanent settlement in their ancestral homeland.

Offered by Rep. William S. Torres, the resolution asked the Board of Public Lands to issue permits for homestead lots and provide basic infrastructure to allow the building of permanent homes.

Even without the homestead projects, the people of the Northern Islands still want to go back, despite the fact that they will encounter difficulties, Mr. Ogumoro said.

The House resolution asked BPL to extend the same benefits, privileges and opportunities being enjoyed by the residents of Saipan, Rota and Tinian under the CNMI Homestead Program.

While their population is small, residents of the Northern Islands have "yearned for a sense of identity and physical connection with their ancestral lands" -- a desire that lawmakers said is being denied them in the absence of a housing program.

"The residents of our neighboring islands to the north have not only languished in vain while waiting unspeakably for repatriation to their ancestral land, but also patiently endured the uncertainty of ever acquiring a parcel of land upon which their ancestors once thread," according to the resolution.

Mr. Tenorio said the area remains off-limits to human habitation and that travel to the island is still restricted, except for monitoring activities conducted by the authorities.

According to the emergency declaration, the volcanic activity and seismic phenomena continue to exist, almost eight months since there were signs of a major eruption.

Residents fled the Northern Islands after the government prohibited travel in the area. The latest warning will remain in effect for 30 days.

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

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