26 Apr 2004

Marshall Islands government says Kwajalein was no Compact issue

4:16 pm on 26 April 2004

The Marshall Islands Government says the US long-term use of a missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll was never up for negotiation during their Compact of Free Association talks.

The US and Marshall Islands governments have ratified a new agreement for use of the site despite fierce opposition from landowners, who claim that the move is unconstitutional.

The Marshall's foreign minister, Gerald Zackios, says the existing land use agreement - updated in 1999 - allows the US to stay until 2016.

He says securing economic aid from the US is the Government's main goal.

"The priority for Government is to renegotiate the economic package for the Marshall Islands which was expiring provision. The negotiations with respect to Kwajalien was not an expiring provision, it was an opportunity to get a better package in terms of addressing the social and economic implications."

The Compact is a 20-year agreement that will provide the Marshalls with close to one billion US in aid until 2023 .

Landowners are adamant they will not approve an extension of the lease arrangement beyond 2016 unless issues of environmental contamination, repatriation and resettlement are addressed .

A subsidiary agreement in the Compact allows the US to remain at Kwajalein until at least 2066.