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Dow Jones International News

US Navy Says Explosions Heard On Vieques Part Of Cleanup

February 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--Explosions heard on Vieques island this week weren't caused by new U.S. Navy training exercises, as protesters charged, but by cleanup work at the bombing range, the Navy said Thursday.

The clean up requires old bombs and other ammunition be detonated, Navy spokesman Sixto Escobar said.

The Navy hasn't used live ordinance on its bombing range on Vieques , a Puerto Rican island of 9,100 residents, since a 1999 accident that killed a civilian guard.

Since then, hundreds have been arrested in protests to press for the Navy's departure.

Escobar said the bombs and ammunition being detonated were left over from exercises done before 1999. The detonations began two weeks ago, and will continue at least through Sunday, he said.

Some opponents weren't convinced.

"At noon Wednesday, residents near the public beach heard a strong detonation coming from the bombing range," local protest leader Nilda Medina said. She said she thought the explosions were from military exercises.

The Navy has been using the range off the eastern coast of the main island of Puerto Rico , a U.S. Caribbean territory, since the 1940s. President George W. Bush has promised the Navy will withdraw from Vieques in or before 2003.

Navy opponents have argued that the unexploded ordinance littered on beaches around the bombing range pose a danger.

The last round of exercises on Vieques was in September and October. The date for the next round hasn't yet been announced.

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