VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (AP) _ U.S. Navy fighter jets climbed above the clouds for a high-altitude bombing exercise over Vieques island, but were called back because two protesters had ``fouled the range.''
It was the strongest admission yet from the Navy that peaceful guerrilla tactics labeled a ``disobedience campaign'' are effectively derailing military exercises on this island off the coast of Puerto Rico.
``The important thing is that we identified these guys before the aircraft came in and were able to ensure that nobody got hurt,'' said Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Goode, a Navy spokeswoman.
Two protesters at the edge of the live-impact area shot off a signal flare just before the inert bombs were to be dropped, Goode said. The two were detained for trespassing on federal land.
The close call underscored the high-stakes duel being played out on Vieques between the U.S. Navy and activists who insist they have succeeded in delaying maneuvers several times.
``This has been a very successful civil disobedience campaign,'' protest leader Robert Rabin said. ``They have been constantly changing their schedule.''
On Wednesday, the bombing exercises began after 5 p.m. _ once patrols had ensured it was safe, the Navy said. But the training had been cleared to begin in the morning.
On Tuesday, the Navy said the first bombardment began about 9 p.m., 13 hours after the Navy had warned it could start.
But Vieques Commissioner Juan Fernandez, who is monitoring the bombing for the Puerto Rican government, said ``not a single bomb was dropped'' the whole day. Repeated calls to both parties were unable to resolve the discrepancy.
Protesters are invading the Navy land in hopes of blocking the latest in six decades of military exercises that they say have harmed the environment and the health of people on Vieques.
Activists, who demand an immediate end to the bombing exercises, were not appeased by President Bush's announcement last week that the Navy will withdraw in two years.
Seven protesters were detained Wednesday after cutting through a fence. At least 47 protesters have been detained for trespassing on federal lands this week, including the wife of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jackson said he will travel to Puerto Rico on Friday to visit his jailed wife, Jacqueline Jackson. He also said he plans to visit Vieques, although he had no plans to try to enter Navy land himself.
``We want to meet with President Bush to ask him to stop the bombing now _ not wait until 2003,'' Jackson said by telephone Wednesday. He said he had not yet received a response from Bush.