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Gov. Discusses Puerto Rico Range

August 19, 1999

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Vice President Al Gore wants the U.S. Navy to find an alternative to a Puerto Rico bombing range the Navy insists is vital to national security, Puerto Rico’s governor said Thursday.

Gore informed Gov. Pedro Rossello during a telephone call late Wednesday that he told President Clinton the Navy has to look for an alternative to the range on the inhabited island of Vieques, Rossello said.

Rossello has led a drive to oust the Navy from Vieques after an April 19 bombing accident killed a security guard inside the range. On Clinton’s orders, a Pentagon commission is investigating whether alternatives exist.

Gore spokeswoman Melissa Ratcliff confirmed Gore had urged Clinton to seek a solution to the dispute but said she did not know if he had taken a side. ``We don’t discuss the private telephone calls of the vice president,″ she said.

Gore’s support would be the highest-level endorsement yet for Puerto Rico’s struggle with the Navy. Puerto Rico claims frequent bombing runs have hobbled economic development, scared away tourists and contributed to Vieques’ high cancer rate.

Rossello, who serves on Gore’s presidential campaign staff, called the vice president’s support ``a noble gesture.″

The Navy says the training ground is the only place its Atlantic Fleet can train under warlike conditions with live munitions. The military has practiced there for every major conflict since 1941, and Navy officials say training on Vieques was essential to naval aviators’ success during the recent Kosovo campaign.

The Navy owns two-thirds of Vieques. About 9,400 people live on the other third.

On Monday, Gore’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bill Bradley, told Puerto Ricans the Navy had caused ``humanitarian and environmental damage that is unacceptable.″

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson also denounced the military exercises during a visit to the bombing range last week. The Navy has suspended training on Vieques while the Pentagon panel studies the issue.

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