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Dedicate New Shuttle Emergency Landing Site on Easter Island

August 17, 1987

EASTER ISLAND, Chile (AP) _ American and Chilean authorities Sunday dedicated an emergency landing strip for the U.S. space shuttle in a ceremony snubbed by representatives of a local tribal group that opposed the project.

Heading the U.S. delegation was Robert Gelbard, the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.

He was accompanied by officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Ambassador Harry Barnes, who praised the Chilean government’s assistance in the $8 million project.

″For the United States government, it constitutes a very important step forward in Chilean-American scientific cooperation,″ Barnes said at the ceremony.

Absent were representatives of the Easter Island Family Chiefs Council, an organization of descendents of the original tribal chiefs. The council contends the project could result in archaeological damage and makes the island strategically important for the United States and thus a possible target in case of war.

Easter Island, a Polynesian mote formed by volcanic action, is the site of the famous ″moais,″ tall stone-carved busts that are hundreds of years old.

The island’s governor, Sergio Rapu, said the newly remodeled airstrip marked an important stage in the island’s integration with the Chilean mainland, 2,270 miles to the east.

Under an agreement with the Chilean government, NASA extended the existing strip by 1,390 feet to a length of 11,000 feet. It also widened and paved the strip, and added new lighting and special instrumentation.

The Chilean delegation was headed by the foreign relations subsecretary, army Col. Ramon Valdez, and civilian aviation director Gen. Sergio Lavin.

President Augusto Pinochet had been expected to attend the ceremony, initially scheduled for June. His absence and the delay apparently were prompted by a cooling of relations with the United States over human rights issues.

The United States earlier this year renewed its request that Chile hand over two retired army officers, both former secret police agents, wanted in the 1976 assassination of prominent Chilean dissident Orlando Leteler. Pinochet’s government rejected the request in July.

Letelier and an American assistant, Ronnie Moffitt, were killed when a remote-controlled bomb blew up the car they were riding in on a Washington street.