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P.R. Police To Provide Help In Removal Of Vieques Protesters

by Proviana Colon Diaz

April 26, 2000
Copyright © 2000 PuertoRicoWOW NEWS SERVICE. All Rights Reserved.

Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo said Tuesday that six police vessels will be used to close off sea access and prevent anyone from entering federal territory while U.S. Marshals remove protesters in Vieques.

For the first time since demonstrators invaded federal land a year ago, Toledo confirmed that vessels of the United Forces of Rapid Action, known as FURA for its Spanish acronym, will be used during the operation.

Because Vieques fishermen have warned that they would take to the sea at the time demonstrators are removed, Toledo has said that a confrontation in the waters off Vieques is his biggest concern.

The participation of Police Department vessels was decided last week during a meeting with federal authorities. However, Toledo said the department’s presence, whether at sea or on land, would be minimal and only to support federal officials. The police will not make any arrest in federal land.

"The participation on sea [by police] will basically be in a small area to avoid anyone from coming in once the operation has begun. The rest will be covered by the U.S. Coast Guard or the U.S. Marshals," Toledo said.

By his own estimates, it would take the Police Department between one and two days to be ready for the operation.

"The plan is ready, we just need to know when to execute it," Toledo said.

Toledo’s statements came one day after CNN reported indicating that military troops could be arriving in the small island municipality to help FBI and U.S. Marshals remove demonstrators.

On Tuesday, however, the Pentagon confirmed that U.S. aircraft carrier USS George Washington, scheduled to train in Vieques from May 12-20, will practice instead in Virginia and North Carolina.

Gov. Pedro Rossello, meanwhile, said Monday’s reports on possible removal of protesters and the Pentagon’s announcement are proof of the many speculations that are being made regarding the Vieques issue.

The governor once again sustained the need for the bombing range to be cleared, as established in President Clinton’s directives on Vieques.

"If there is no voluntary abandonment, there will be an intervention at some time to clear the federal land," Rossello said.

To that effect the governor said he was not against demonstrations, however, the protest would have to take place outside federal jurisdiction.

"I insist that they can feel free to hold their demonstrations, but they have to abandon the federal terrain….If they want to, I will find them the land, but not in federal jurisdiction," said Rossello.

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