Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Thursday, March 11, 2004

Marshall Islanders demand more US compensation for nuclear tests

The Marshall Islands has stepped up accusations against the United States of providing woefully inadequate compensation for the nuclear tests conducted in the tiny South Pacific country about five decades ago.


The Marshall Islands has stepped up accusations against the United States of providing woefully inadequate compensation for the nuclear tests conducted in the tiny South Pacific country about five decades ago.

The Marshall Islands, the site of 67 US nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958, has said the 270 million US dollars Washington provided as compensation in a recently expired arrangement made in1986 is far from enough.

But US officials have said the paid compensation is "full and final settlement." And there has been a cut off of 2 million US dollars in annual US funding for a comprehensive health care program for those affected by the nuclear tests.

The country has been more harshly criticizing the United Statessince March 1, the 50th anniversary of the largest US nuclear testin history on Bikini Atoll.

The detonation of the hydrogen bomb, codenamed Bravo, was equalto the force of nearly 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. It blasted radioactive debris across people living on other neighboring islands.

Nuclear Day Remembered

National flags flew at half-mast on March 1 in the Marshall Islands in honor of the national holiday for Nuclear Survivors Remembrance Day. Demonstrations were held to demand more compensation, reports reaching here said.

Visiting the still contaminated Bikini last week, President Kessai Note said "we need to know what the United States thinks ofour request (for more compensation)." "If they don't want to give the money needed to correct the problem, we need to know. We've been waiting a long time."

Since September 2000, the Marshall Islands has asked the US Congress for 2 billion US dollars as more compensation, nuclear cleanup and health care funding. The Congress asked the Bush administration in March 2002 to review the demand, but there has been no response ever since.

Bikini Atoll Senator Tomaki Juda told the parliament last week:"Fifty years have gone by, but Bravo is still with us. We wait andwe wait, not knowing when we can return home." "Now you know why March is a time of sadness and memory for the people of Bikini," he said.

Bikini residents demand Washington to fulfill its promise made 50 years ago to clean up their home island so that they can return.Land means much to the country which has an area of 181 square kilometers. "If you don't have land, you are nothing," reports reaching here quoted Juda as saying.

New Claims

A tiny atoll Ailuk has filed a claim for nuclear test compensation and health care funding with the US-funded Nuclear Claims Tribunal in the country's capital Majuro recently. The Ailuk islanders complained of severe health problems as a result of living in a radioactive environment since the Bravo test.

Before Ailuk, four atolls have been acknowledged to be affectedby radiation: Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik. The tribunal has awarded 1 billion US dollars to Bikini and Enewetak, but it has never had enough fund to fully pay the money. And similar claims from Rongelap and Utrik are still to be settled.

Meanwhile, a group of Marshall Islanders have been sent to Washington to lobby the US government for compensation.

Explanations Unaccepted

US Ambassador Greta Morris last week expressed Washington's "appreciation for the sacrifices and hardships that the Bikini people made during the Cold War." She described the Bravo test fallout as "accidental."

The United States is providing health care, environmental monitoring and restoration for islands "inadvertently affected" byBravo, and will continue doing so, she said.

But local people would not buy the story as they compare US's lavishing of money in war as against compensation for the MarshallIslands.

"(US) President Bush has told the entire world that the damage in Iraq and Afghanistan is a US responsibility," said Juda. "What's difference between Bikini and Iraq?"

Source: Xinhua

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