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Rossello Rejects Pentagon Offer On Vieques

January 24, 2000
Copyright © 2000 DOW JONES & COMPANY, INC. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--Gov. Pedro Rossello Monday rejected a new Pentagon offer to resolve a dispute over a U.S. Navy bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

"This proposal is not acceptable," Rossello said after meeting with an advisory committee of political, religious and civic leaders Monday afternoon.

He was joined at a news conference by three former governors of the U.S. territory.

"The Navy has not internalized that they have to stop their exercises," said former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon. Hernandez Colon, a bitter rival of Rossello, who joined the governor Monday to show the rare unity the issue has inspired among Puerto Rico 's often-divided politicians.

Rossello said he would continue to try to seek a "valid and just" agreement with U.S. President Clinton but would not negotiate further with the Department of Defense.

"There is a consensus to keep the doors open to dialogue with the White House, but not with the Navy," Rossello said.

The Department of Defense Friday had offered to hand over some of the land on Vieques if the Puerto Rican government allowed it to continue military exercises with dummy bombs, Rossello's aides said.

They said the deal would also have called for a referendum among Vieques' 9,400 residents on whether the Navy should be allowed to resume bombing with live explosives.

If residents approved, the Department of Defense would have asked Congress for a $40 million economic aid package for the island. If they had disapproved, the deal would have required the military to leave Vieques by March 1, 2005.

After efforts to clean the land of explosives, the training ground would have been turned over to the U.S. Interior Department and the General Services Administration.

The offer was the latest attempt by the U.S. government to defuse a political battle that started when a U.S. Marine Corps jet dropped two bombs off-target on April 19, killing a civilian security guard in the Vieques training ground.

The guard's death touched off demonstrations against the U.S. Navy, which owns two-thirds of Vieques. Protesters have camped out in the bombing range to prevent further exercises, and Rossello has demanded the military leave.


See also, White House Talks Set In Vieques Dispute On Base

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