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SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 29) – Amid heightened use
of the Northern Marianas by the U.S. military, the Commonwealth is opposing the
federal government's claim to approximately 264,000 square miles of submerged
lands in the islands, in a lawsuit pending at the U.S. District Court.

Through Assistant Attorney General Joseph L.G. Taijeron Jr., the
CNMI government is asserting its title over submerged lands, which the U.S.
claims to be incidental to its sovereignty over the Commonwealth when the Trust
Territory Period ended.

"Pursuant to the Covenant, the submerged lands of the
Northern Marianas are the property of the people. They were never given away or
implicitly conveyed. Instead, the people, via the CNMI, retained these lands
through the Covenant," Taijeron said.

He said that, when the Trusteeship ended, the Trust Territory
government ceded its interest over the lands to the NMI government.

The CNMI attorney asked the court to enforce the Covenant,
particularly certain provisions from which he anchored local ownership of
submerged lands.

While the U.S. government points to other provisions of the
Covenant pertaining to its sovereignty over these lands, Taijeron said the
agreement actually provides specific statements regarding land ownership.

He said the Covenant's Article VIII conveyed substantial sizes
of properties to the U.S. for defense and sovereignty purposes through leasehold
interests over nearly 18,000 acres of CNMI land. This amounts to less then 1
percent of the aggregate area of the submerged lands.

The military has existing leaseholds over approximately
two-thirds of Tinian, the entire Farallon de Mendinilla Island, and the
submerged lands off the coast of both islands. The military also leased the
Tanapag Harbor on Saipan. "The submerged lands of the CNMI.were clearly not
part of the 18,000-acre deal."

The attorney said the CNMI leased the lands to the U.S.
government "in recognition of its patriotic obligations as a member of the
American political family."

Taijeron said the federal government, through the same provision
in the Covenant, made clear that it would not be buying fee simple interests in
any land.

Citing a portion of the provision, he said: "The United
States affirms that it has no present need for or present intention to acquire
any greater interest in property listed above than that which is granted to it
under the order to carry out its defense responsibilities."

Taijeron said the dispute over submerged lands is not one of
sovereignty, conceding that the Commonwealth embraces U.S. sovereignty over the

"This case is about land pure and simple," he said.
"Specifically, it concerns the CNMI's submerged lands-lands that are
absolutely critical to the Northern Mariana Islands in terms of its cultural
identity, as well as the Commonwealth's future economic development," he

He urged the court not to rely on jurisprudence that applies to
other U.S. states and territories, saying that the existence of the Commonwealth
is unique. Thus, the CNMI deserves "exceptional" treatment, he added.

"Under the Covenant, the Commonwealth is neither a
territory nor one of the 50 states," Taijeron said.

He also chided the U.S. government for not taking the cudgels on
behalf of the CNMI in claiming up to 12 miles of territorial waters from the
CNMI's boundaries, in accordance with the internationally recognized Law of the

April 30, 2003

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