Puerto Rico asks U.S. to reject any wartime proposals for live-fire training on Vieques

Sunday, November 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Puerto Rico's governor said she is worried that the war in Afghanistan may prompt the U.S. military to resume training with live bombs on the island of Vieques, a prospect that is bitterly opposed by the U.S. territory.

Gov. Sila Calderon, in a letter to U.S. Navy Secretary Gordon England, said the use of live-fire training on the island of 9,100 people would outrage Puerto Ricans.

``Such a decision would inflame passions among protesters and create a very sensitive situation for all concerned,'' Calderon wrote in the letter dated Friday, but released to media on Saturday.

In the letter, Calderon referred to a phone conversation last week with England in which she urged him to reject a request made by Navy and Marine Corps commanders for the U.S. government to allow a limited amount of live bombing on Vieques in January.

Calderon did not say how, or through what sources, she learned of the request.

Officials with the Navy, which runs the Vieques training ground, did not return calls Saturday asking for comment.

On Friday, the Washington Times newspaper published a report based on what the paper said was a letter sent to England by General James Jones, the Marine commandant, and Admiral Vern Clark, chief of naval operations.

The newspaper said the letter cited the war on terrorism as a reason to let U.S. forces use some live munitions during training by the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier battle group in January.

The military stopped using live explosives on Vieques after bombs dropped off target killed a civilian security guard on the range in 1999, triggering demonstrations.

Under an agreement signed last year between former President Clinton and then-governor Pedro Rossello, the Navy was forced to switch to dummy bombs. President Bush has said the Navy should abandon the training areas in Vieques no later than May 2003.

The Navy's bombing range covers 900 acres on the island's eastern tip, about 10 miles from civilian areas.

Residents claim the bombing has stunted economic development, hurt the environment and endangered their health. The Navy says the environmental damage is minimal and there is no evidence of health effects.