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By John Ravelo Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (December 4, 2001 – Saipan Tribune)---Immigration chief Antonio Sablan said yesterday that using Tinian as a holding area for suspected members of the al-Qaida network -- a group linked to Osama bin Laden -- would put the Commonwealth in the international spotlight and would make it a possible target for possible terrorist retaliation.

Sablan's statement came in the wake of reports that the United Nation's High Commission on Refugees is in communication with the CNMI government regarding the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and its significance to the Northern Marianas.

He said the government should consider the safety risk that it would bring to the CNMI, and the adverse effect on the tourism industry -- one of the backbones of the Commonwealth's economy.

"Maybe the U.S. government will put in their security, but that could be a sense of different level from people that perceive it, like tourists coming over here. All they know is that the terrorists are here," Sablan said. "They'll [terrorists] probably target Saipan or the Commonwealth because we are going to attract [attention] the minute they [the administration] say 'Yes, they're going to be housed or held in Tinian.' Automatically, I guarantee you, we would attract attention," he added.

The immigration director also said bringing in the captured al-Qaida members entails other problems, considering that the time frame for holding the suspected terrorists is still indefinite.

"I think the process would be one of a long period of time," Sablan said. "I don't think it will be favorable to the CNMI to bring them here. You talk about logistics, facilities [and] infrastructure to keep the camp running for a long duration of time."

"[If] you make this the holding place for those arrested or captured under the on-going war on terrorism, [then] we would attract attention," he added. "And surely, the people who want to come over here don't want to take the slightest possibility, slightest chance of being here when something does go wrong."

The U.S. government is reportedly considering Tinian for detaining captured terrorists, where it leases from the Commonwealth a total of 17,798 hectares (44,495 acres) of land from the defunct Marianas Public Land Corporation, now known as the Marianas Public Land Authority.

MPLA deputy administrator Henry Hofschneider had said that such a plan should respect the provisions of the lease agreement, which the Commonwealth and federal governments signed on January 6, 1983.

"I understand that as a Commonwealth under the U.S. flag, [it has] to support the effort of the U.S. government. I think we can do that in other ways," he said.

Sablan said that many local people are doing their share for patriotism by joining the military service.

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

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