KWAJALEIN LANDOWNERS WANT MORE FROM COMPACT

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By Tricia Fitzgerald

SYDNEY, Australia (ABC News Online, May 6) - After four years of
protracted negotiations, a multi-billion dollar deal has been struck for
Washington's continued use of the Kwajalein Atoll as a missile-testing range.

Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States will
give the Marshall Islands three billion dollars over the next 20 years, and that
includes the extended use of the atoll.

But Kwajalein’s former residents aren’t happy about it.

American forces occupied Kwajalein Atoll when they overran
Japanese troops occupying the Marshall Islands in the Second World War.

The Americans relocated the islanders to the less fertile and
overcrowded Ebeye Island, where they remain today.

Christopher Leoak is one of those relocated, a Kwajalein
traditional owner who boycotted the ceremony this week for the signing of the
new agreement with the U.S.

He says his people are saddened and frustrated by the terms of
the new deal, which extends the U.S. military's lease over his islands up until
at least the year 2066.

The deal also falls US$4 million short of what his community was
demanding for the continued use of their atoll for weapons testing.

"I was not present at the signing yesterday and I
understand there were others who were not present also," he says.

"A lot of the parliament members were not there."

Leoak says he wasn’t a member of the group because he wasn’t
happy with the results of the negotiations

"The people of Kwajalein are still unhappy about the amount
of compensation - the outcome of the negotiations.

"The difference between us and them is four million
dollars, which we think is not that much for the United States. But it makes a
big difference for the people."

Congressional approval required

Leoak says the extra four million dollars would have been
distributed among all the landowners. He says they depend totally on the money
for their livelihood.

The new deal, which has taken almost four years to negotiate,
must be reviewed by the Marshall Islands' parliament and presented to the U.S.
Congress for approval.

Leoak says his government still hasn't announced the details of
the deal and he's hoping it can be amended, either in their parliament, or in
the U.S. congress.

"The government has not yet explained to the nation, and
there has never been any really public forum about education and things like
that for the people.

"So nobody really understands except the leaders and the
government," he says.

But the U.S. State Department's chief negotiator, Albert Short,
sees the deal as a fait accompli.

He told Radio Australia the U.S. Congress is unlikely to query
the details of the deal before they pass it in September.

"We've signed the entire Compact package.

"That first and foremost provides for a 20-year extension
of economic assistance, greater accountability and oversight of the expenditure
of the funds and, in the case of the Marshall Islands, also an extension of the
military use and operating rights’ agreement for Kwajalein is included in the
package."

Short says he found no member of Congress who was opposed to the
amendment to the Compact.

"And one must recognize that what we're talking here is not
a change in the political relationship.

Crucial to weapons program

"The underlying relationship of Free Association with the
Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshalls will continue unabated, until
there's an affirmative step by one of the governments to withdraw," he
says.

"Now what we're simply addressing here primarily are the
financial terms, the economic conditions under which we provide support.

"As I said, it'll be for a 20-year period, at the end of
that 20-year period a trust fund will be energized, which will be contributed to
over the period of 20 years," says. Short.

The Marshall Islands have long been a crucial part of the U.S.
military's weapons program.

A total of 67 surface and underwater nuclear tests have been
conducted in the islands since 1958.

And the Kwajalein Atoll itself is a vital part of the new and
controversial U.S. Missile Defence Shield.

The Marshalls Island government was well aware of the U.S.
desire to continue using Kwajalein.

It used that as a strong bargaining chip in its negotiations to
secure a favourable aid program from the U.S. beyond this October.

The government also wanted to maintain unrestricted U.S. study
and travel rights for Marshall Islanders, and the continuation of U.S. postal
services and emergency relief.

But despite those needs Tony De Brum, a member of the Kwajalein
Negotiations Commission, says the Marshall Islands government had no right to
bargain away the traditional rights of the Kwajalein people.

"The landowners of Kwajalein have never agreed to the
United States use of Kwajalein beyond the year 2016, and that situation still
stands.

"And any report that says that the new agreement is for 50
years is not correct.

"That’s because the Marshall Islands government and
myself are saying - from the landowners, - (there must be) a land-use agreement,
in order for any agreement that it makes with anyone to have any effect,"
he says.

"And the landowners have expressed their disapproval and
their rejection of the current agreement," says Mr. De Brum.

May 7, 2003

ABC News Online: http://abc.net.au/news/ 

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