DISPUTE BREWS OVER FINAL U.S. NUCLEAR PAYMENT TO MARSHALL ISLANDS

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (July 2, 2001 - Marshall Islands Journal/PINA Nius Online)---A dispute is brewing between the Bank of New York and Marshall Islands officials over the final $4.5 million nuclear test compensation payment due to the Marshall Islands later this year.

Bank of New York, which is the trustee for the Marshalls nuclear investment fund, has told Marshall Islands officials that the last payment is due next month, bringing the total payout over 15 years to $270 million.

But the Nuclear Claims Tribunal and the Bikini Atoll Local Government both dispute this, saying there are two more quarterly payments left: one in July and another in October.

The dispute has arisen because the 15-year compensation package contained in a treaty between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands known as the Compact of Free Association comes to an end later this year. The U.S. established a fund in the mid-1980s to compensate islanders affected by the 67 American nuclear tests conducted between 1946 and 1958.

Defender of the Fund at the Tribunal, Philip Okney, said in an interview that the Tribunal and the four nuclear test-affected atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik received their first nuclear fund payments in January 1987. This would make the final quarterly payment due in October, not July, as stated by the Bank of New York.

"The Tribunal and the four atolls are beneficiaries and have no control over the trust fund or the trustee," Okney said. "We can only complain. The Marshall Islands government is responsible for the drawdowns."

But, he added, he and the Bikinians have raised the concern directly with officials at the Bank of New York.

"We all agree on the July payment," Okney said. But Bank of New York disputes the Tribunal’s position that an October payment is also due, saying the July payment of $4.5 million ends the 15 years of trust fund quarterly payouts.

Bikini Council liaison Jack Niedenthal has records of the first trust fund payment received by the Bikini Council dated January 1987, which he said confirms that the final payment is due in October. "I still have the first quarterly payment record, coffee stains and all," he said, adding that the Bikinians’ Washington, D.C.-based attorney Jonathan Weisgall has been communicating with Bank of New York about the final payment.

Okney said "we’ve asked the Bank to show it to us in writing because our records don’t show (a payment before January 1987)." He indicated that in mid-May, Bank of New York officials promised to do a records search and get back to the Tribunal. He said he has received nothing in writing from the Bank to date.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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