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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 22) – The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) House of Representatives yesterday unanimously adopted a resolution urging Gov. Benigno R. Fitial to ask the U.S. Department of Defense to increase its military presence here.

Rep. Cinta M. Kaipat, Covenant-Saipan, the principal author of House Resolution 15-94, said the U.S. and Japan will spend as much as $1 billion every year for infrastructure development for the planned relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Japan to Guam.

She said the CNMI should be included in the U.S. military’s planned build-up in the Asia-Pacific Region.

"The military has the money and what we’re saying is that the commonwealth is here," said Kaipat in an interview after yesterday’s session.

She said the military’s presence in the commonwealth will mean a better infrastructure.

She added that a military economy will also mean better jobs and opportunities for the local people.

Asked if military expansion could also mean the federalization of local immigration, Kaipat said: "I’m sure that security will be an issue (for the military). Everything has to be evaluated on the merits."

Speaker Oscar M. Babauta, Covenant-Saipan, in response to the same question, said federalizing local immigration in exchange for a greater military presence here is a "sticky issue."

He said the founding fathers of the CNMI wanted the island to be self-governing.

"Our founding fathers who signed the Covenant agreement wanted us to freely operate our domestic affairs," he said.

The relocation of U.S. Marines to Guam from Japan will begin in 2008. By 2010, over 8,000 of them will have been relocated to the island.

Kaipat said the Northern Marianas has served as a training venue for numerous military operations.

"An increased military presence in the Northern Mariana Islands in the form of training, tourism, construction and transportation will help in the revitalization of our ailing economy," her resolution stated.

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