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Group Urges End to Vieques Bombing

March 26, 2001

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ An interdenominational Christian group in the United States is urging President Bush to halt U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Representative of 36 denominations affiliated with the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA will sign a letter to Bush asking him to consider their pleas, Bob Edgar, the New York-based group’s general secretary, said Sunday in San Juan.

``The majority of the people of Puerto Rico have demonstrated that they do not want Vieques to be a site for war exercises,″ the group said in the letter being circulated among its members.

The Navy says Vieques is vital for national defense because its unique topography allows for simultaneous mock assaults by air, sea and land.

The Navy owns two-thirds of the populated island, and its bombing range covers 900 acres on the eastern tip nearly 10 miles from the civilian sector. It used live bombs until two went astray in a 1999 practice and killed a civilian guard on the bombing range.

The bombing was halted and protesters occupied the range for more than a year before the Navy swept through and kicked them off in May.

Under an agreement between then-President Clinton and then-Gov. Pedro Rossello, training resumed using inert bombs and Vieques’ 9,400 residents will decide in a November referendum whether the Navy should stay or leave.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the Navy to call off planned training exercises this month on Vieques, but it was not a permanent halt to training on the island.

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