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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Mar. 3) — Flags flew at half-mast Monday in the Marshall Islands in honor of the national holiday for Nuclear Survivors Remembrance Day.

But while Monday marked the 50th anniversary of the day that the Bravo hydrogen bomb test spewed radioactive fallout across the Marshall Islands, President Kessai Note and representatives of nuclear-affected islands repeatedly emphasized that they don’t view themselves as "victims" and called on the United States to meet its responsibility to the survivors.

"For our people, for the Marshall Islands, March 1, 1954 is the defining moment in world history," said Rongelap Mayor James Matayoshi whose atoll was engulfed in a snow storm of radioactive fallout.

"At a time when the U.S. is spending billions to study nuclear cleanups at U.S. mainland weapons productions sites, and hundreds of billions to make the world a safer place, the U.S. has a legal and moral obligation to finally resolve the legacy of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands — a democratic ally that asks for nothing except just compensation for judicially determined (nuclear) claims."

A police honor guard led nuclear survivors, anti-nuclear activists, a high-level U.S. church delegation, and local students on a march down Main Street to the capital building for a day-long program of speeches and music.

Note said this central Pacific nation is asking the U.S. "to help us to overcome the severe obstacles of the nuclear weapons program."

He said $270 million in compensation provided by the U.S. in a recently expired Compact of Free Association "was not enough" and he called on the American government to respond to the Marshalls’ petition seeking more compensation, nuclear cleanup money and health care funding.

"We can’t rewrite history, but we can look for a better future for our people," he said.

American Ambassador Greta Morris emphasized the "tremendous contribution of the Marshall Islands" to the successful end of the Cold War.

Although many Marshall Islands speakers said they were exposed intentionally and that U.S. scientists used them as guinea pigs for studying the affects of radioactivity, the ambassador described the Bravo fallout as "accidental."

She expressed the U.S. government’s "deep regrets" for the hardships caused to the people of the four nuclear test-affected atolls from the "accidental" downwind injuries from the Bravo test fallout.

The U.S. is providing health care, environmental monitoring and restoration for islands "inadvertently affected" by Bravo, and will continue doing so, she said.

She spoke about the close relationship of the two nations, which includes Marshall Islanders serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Army.

This close relationship is resulting in strong financial support from the U.S., she said. The value of all U.S. funding to the Marshall Islands in 2002 was $203 million, making the Marshall Islands "one of the largest per capita U.S. aid recipients in the world."

The U.S. is continuing to provide $57 million annually in direct funding to the Marshall Islands for the next 20 years, as well as providing access to numerous federal programs and grants. This will provide health care, environmental monitoring and resettlement support for the four nuclear affected atolls, as well as health and education improvements for all Marshall Islanders, Morris said.

But speaker after speaker challenged the U.S. government to meet its obligations to nuclear test survivors, and many questioned U.S. efforts to cut back health care and environmental monitoring programs for nuclear affected islands.

March 3, 2004

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