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By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 12) – Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Benigno R. Fitial disclosed yesterday that the U.S. military has assured him that the 8,000 U.S. Marine troops from Okinawa, Japan, will definitely use Tinian as a site for training exercises.

[PIR Editor's note: Tinian is a small island south of Saipan.]

In an interview, Fitial related that during his Wednesday meeting in Guam with U.S. Pacific Command deputy commander Lt. Gen. Daniel Leaf and U.S. Naval Forces Marianas commander Rear Admiral Charles J. Leidig, he was briefed on the progress of the relocation of U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam.

Fitial said reports have it that the Japanese government has already agreed to pay a certain amount for the relocation.

The governor said the actual relocation would take place anytime within the next three years.

"We welcome the military in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The general made it very clear that they will come to Tinian for military exercises. The military troops will be training on Tinian. Tinian will be used as a training site for exercises," he said.

Leaf had reportedly told him that facilities would be constructed on Tinian to support the training exercises.

The chief executive said the coming of the Marines would not only have an economic impact, but environmental impact as well.

"Those are the concerns. The General is very much concerned about the environmental impact. So those will be addressed in the plans that are now being put together," he said.

The presence of the troops, Fitial said, would have a very significant economic impact on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands because the troops would definitely produce revenue not only on Tinian but also on Saipan, where they are expected to visit.

Fitial said that Leidig had informed him that by middle part of June this year they will have more detailed plans.

"Right now they have been working on this relocation project," he said.

The governor said the military has chosen Tinian as a training site because there is no space for such exercises in Guam.

Besides, Fitial added, the military owns two-thirds of Tinian by virtue of leasehold interest. The military controls 17,799 square meters of public land on Tinian, which it leased from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government.

Japan and the U.S. reportedly struck a deal on sharing the cost of relocating the U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, with Tokyo paying 59 percent, or US$6.9 billion, of the estimated US$10.27 billion total cost through grants, investment and loans.

May 12, 2006

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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