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By Craig DeSilva

HONOLULU, Hawai'i (May 8, 2000 - PIDP/CPIS)---A Honolulu attorney will go to Washington D.C., next week to urge Congress to award the people of Enewetak Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands $341 million in reparations for the United States' use of their land for nuclear testing.

In 1947, the U.S. government evacuated the residents of Enewetak, about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawai‘i, to conduct 43 nuclear tests between 1948 and 1958.

The Enewetaks were moved to Ujelang, a small island with very few resources and lacking necessary medical and educational facilities. In the process, they said they had to endure rat-infested and near-starvation conditions.

The Nuclear Claims Tribunal -- established pursuant to an agreement between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands -- ruled the Enewetak people should be awarded $341 million in compensation for damages they suffered as a result of the nuclear tests at the atoll.

Attorney Davor Pevec said the money is not guaranteed. He said he will lobby Congress or possibly file a lawsuit in the U.S. courts to receive the settlement. Pevec said he will meet with Hawai‘i Senator Dan Akaka next week.

"It rights a wrong by the U.S. for use of the Enewetak's atoll for 10 years," Pevec said during a news conference at the Hawai‘i Capitol building. "The U.S. benefited from the development and testing of nuclear weapons. But the Enewetak people suffered tremendously as a result of the testing that occurred on their island.

"If the government comes in and uses and damages your land, you're entitled to compensation," he said.

One of the tests was 750 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II. Known as the Mike test, it was the first hydrogen explosion by the U.S. The 1952 explosion vaporized several islands and left a crater measuring one-mile across and 250-feet deep.

The devastation left half the land contaminated by radiation, Pevec said. As a result, 558 acres of the sandy soil need to be removed. A costly cleanup will have to be done involving the introduction of potassium-rich soil into the land to prevent new plants from being contaminated.

If the Enewetak people receive their settlement, about $125 million will be invested in a trust fund, with interest earned to be used to clean the land.

Pevec noted a 1947 memorandum by President Harry Truman stating that the Enewetak people would have the same rights as Americans under the U.S. Constitution with respect to the use of their land.

"These people will never be satisfied until their land is rehabilitated to the time prior to the test," Pevec said. "It's their constitutional right, but these people were not taken care of and have yet to receive the just compensation to which they’re entitled."

Several of the 1,600 residents of Enewetak attended the new conference and spoke about their experiences of having their home being taken from them.

"We didn't have a choice," recalled Enewetak Senator Ismael John of the U.S. evacuation of residents. "In the Marshalls, land means everything to the Enewetak people.

"This is a very important case for our people and it's taken us 12 years to get to where we are today," John said. "We will never be satisfied until the land is rehabilitated to the condition prior to the testing."

Renny Robert, an Enewetak council member, recalls growing up on Ujelan. There she described conditions that lacked basic supplies, such as soap and clothes. She said conditions were so bad that when they woke up in the morning, rats would be biting at their fingers and toes.

"It was unimaginable. It was inhumane," Robert said. "The Enewetak that we knew before is no longer."

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