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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, April 25) —
Amended provisions of a Compact of Free Association between the United States
and the Marshall Islands are to be signed here in Majuro late next week, ending
nearly four years of negotiations between the two nations.

The two-part deal is worth about $3.1 billion to the Marshall
Islands over the next 60 years, including $2.3 billion for extended use of the
missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll and funding for a trust fund that will
take the place of direct American government aid in 20 years.

Kwajalein landowners, however, say that the Kwajalein missile
range extension agreement is seriously flawed and the funding it is offering is
far too low to meet basic needs of the increased population that lives largely
in substandard housing on overcrowded Ebeye Island, where about 10,000 islanders
live on fewer than 80 acres of land. They continue to demand renegotiations.

Compact Negotiation Office executive director Robert Muller said
Wednesday that the State Department’s chief negotiator Albert Short is
arriving in Majuro Tuesday. The signing will be held later in the week with
Foreign Minister Gerald Zackios and Short expected to sign the Compact.

Although the Marshall Islands maintains concerns about several
of the provisions in the amended Compact, the government has decided to sign the
deal in an effort to get the document before the U.S. Congress for consideration
to insure there is no interruption in guaranteed funding that expires on Sept.
30. In addition, the Marshall Islands has hired a Washington, D.C.-based
lobbying firm to push its interests on Capitol Hill.

Muller said that following the formal signing, the document will
be transmitted first to the Marshall Islands Cabinet and then to the Nitijela,
the local legislature, for review and approval.

April 25, 2003

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com 

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