MARIANAS PUSH FOR CONTINUED MILITARY PRESENCE

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By Haidee V. Eugenio Variety News Staff

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 14, 2002 – Marianas Variety)---Top government officials and business leaders of the Marianas, including Guam Gov. Carl T.C. Gutierrez and CNMI Gov. Juan N. Babauta, want the U.S. Department of Defense to recognize the islands as a "perfect location" for continued military activity and expansion in the Asia Pacific region.

Two separate "white papers" will be handed to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. this week by officials of the Guam and the Saipan Chambers of Commerce.

"These papers would eventually land on Defense Secretary Ronald Rumsfeld’s table. We’re doing this because we want the military to know that we are supportive of their activities," Saipan Chamber official Mike Schadeck told Variety Thursday.

Protection of national security and economic benefits to the Marianas are two of the major reasons for pushing continued military presence in the islands.

Schadeck said the documents are expected to make an impact on the Marianas’ bid for continuous military port calls and exercises, including the live fire training and bombing exercises on Farallon de Medinilla.

Farallon de Medinilla is the only U.S. live fire training range in the Western Pacific. It has been a training target for bombs, missiles and naval gunfire for more than 30 years.

Gutierrez, Guam House Speaker Antonio R. Unpingco, R-Santa Rita, and Congressman Robert A. Underwood, D-Guam, have all signed the five-page document, "Force Structure Redistribution in the Asia-Pacific Region: Guam’s Potential Role."

Guam Chamber of Commerce officials Carl Peterson, Thomas P. Michels and Eloise R. Baza also signed the document.

A 2001 survey commissioned by the Guam Chamber showed that more than 80 percent of Guam’s registered voters supported an even greater military presence.

Babauta signed a similar document Friday in the presence of business leaders, according to Sonya Artero, the governor’s special assistant for federal policy and research.

The Saipan Chamber’s document, "The Northern Mariana Islands and their Role in Supporting America’s Military in the CNMI," is also expected to be signed by Senate President Paul A. Manglona, R-Rota, House Speaker Heinz Hofschneider, R-Saipan, Washington Rep. Pete A. Tenorio and Board of Education Chairman Herman T. Guerrero.

The Marianas endorsement of greater military presence is premised on "strategic" and "economic" merits, the documents said.

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety.

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