‘SAFE HAVEN’ ABANDONED IN CNMI, PALAU EYED

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‘SAFE HAVEN’ ABANDONED IN CNMI, PALAU EYED

By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 2) – With the withdrawal of the "safe haven" proposal due to strong opposition of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands community, the humanitarian group United States International Mission is now considering Palau as an alternative site.

Dai Nguyen, field member of the USIM, said their group will look into alternative areas that have strong ties with the U.S., like Palau, to rehabilitate the rescued Vietnamese girls who were forced into prostitution in Cambodia.

Palau is an independent nation "freely associated" with the U.S.

On Friday, Deputy Attorney General Clyde Lemons Jr. issued a statement announcing the withdrawal from the Commonwealth Registry of Attorney General Pamela Brown’s proposed safe haven entry permit regulation.

Lemons said the decision was based on the large number of comments from those opposed to the plan which were received during the public hearing on Thursday evening. Scores of local residents and officials expressed opposition to the proposal, citing its possible adverse economic, social and political impact on the CNMI.

The public hearing at the multi-purpose center in Susupe was originally set for two hours but it was extended to four hours to accommodate the large number of people who wanted to voice their opinions on the issue.

Sen. Pete P. Reyes, Ind.-Saipan, said while the USIM’s intention is noble, "there are so many questions that must first be answered."

He said the local community may suffer economically and politically if something happens to the victims while they are in the CNMI.

The safe haven proposal aims to legalize the stay of the rescued Vietnamese victims as well as allow non-profit groups like the California-based USIM to establish a rehabilitation center and a school on Saipan.

USIM wants Saipan to be its host location since the CNMI government controls its own immigration policy.

The group’s benefactors are mostly Vietnamese-Americans and Hollywood human rights activists including the actress Darryl Hannah.

The CNMI’s first governor, Dr. Carlos S. Camacho, said during the public hearing that the plan to rehabilitate the victims on Saipan "is one of the best con (jobs) that I have ever seen."

Camacho said the majority of the islands’ estimated 80,000 people are mostly foreigners and the entry of the Vietnamese would make matters worse.

"How many brothels are there in Cambodia? How many kids are we expecting? There are more aliens now than the indigenous people. That was not the intention (when we first opened up the islands for foreign workers)," he said.

He said those pushing for the entry of the Vietnamese victims are underestimating the local people’s intelligence.

"They think we’re poor, ignorant, uneducated natives of these islands," he said.

Another local resident, Henry Sablan, said while the USIM’s intention is noble, the U.S. can probably take care of it better than the CNMI.

"As an American, I am ashamed. We are selling democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan but we (in the CNMI) don’t even have a representative in the U.S. Congress," he said.

About 1,000 people had signed a petition against the safe haven entry permit as of Thursday.

January 2, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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