23 August 2005
While the US Missile Defense Agency prepares this week to once again send a missile's dummy warhead into a catcher's mitt known as Kwajalein Atoll, Marshallese
leaders of that island remain unconvinced that decades of military activities and missile operations have left Kwajalein and its people "free of all dangers and risks" and "safe at all
In a recent letters, the four reigning paramount Iroijlaplaps (chiefs) of the Ralik Chain of the Marshall Islands expressed gratitude to the NGO's, institutions, and individuals that showed their support earlier this year in several letters to Congress asking that the US adopt the same measures for Marshall Islands radiation victims as it did for American downwinders. The traditional leadership also asked for support of the Kwajalein people's efforts to get assistance from an appropriate NGO or agency with environmental expertise to assess the environmental impact of the ongoing US military activities on the land, lagoon and ocean areas surrounding their atoll.
"We most anxious that the proposition be set in motion at the earliest to that we will be put in a position to know the loss or damage and to identify appropriate solutions for rectification. Our hope is that these steps will be accomplished well ahead of 2014 when discussions on the return of Kwajalein Atoll to us in 2016 will begin," states the letter signed by Iroij Imata Kabua for Jeimata's Mojen, Leroij Neimata Nakamura for Laelan's Mojen, Iroij Anjua Loeak for Loeak's Mojen, and Leroij Likwor Litokwa for Litokwa's Mojen.
This is the first time that the four paramount chiefs of Kwajalein Atoll and the Ralik Chain have made a public statement and took a stand on the Kwajalein Land Use Agreement (LUA) issue. The letter states that they "have ruled out any future possibility of a renewal of the LUA."
On April 7, 2004, a delegation of Kwajalein landowners presented acting RMI president Wilfred Kendall with a proclamation signed by 4000 Kwajalein landowners declaring that they honor the existing land use agreement (LUA) with the US, but would not accept, under the terms presented, the new agreement which extends the American presence at Kwajalein an additional fifty years.
Kwajalein Atoll is presently under a Land Use Agreement (LUA) between (landowners) and the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMIG). This agreement expires in 2016. A separate agreement called Military Use Operating Right Agreement (MUORA) between the US and RMIG spells out the rights of US to use Kwajalein Atoll.
The site known as the US Army Kwajalein Atoll/Kwajalein Missile Range, or USAKA/KMR, has become America’s premier strategic missile test range.
The Leaders maintain that the rights are only valid to the extent that there is a valid LUA - "since RMIG cannot give, to the US or any one else, land which it does not own."
During the negotiations between the US and the RMIG on the amended Compact of Free Association which concluded two years ago, both governments signed an agreement extending the use of Kwajalein Atoll by the US to 2066 "without the consent of landowners."
"Our objections to this unconscionable act have been met with indifference with the US insisting on the binding authority of its agreement with the RMIG in accordance with international law. The right of ownership of landowners to Kwajalein Atoll, their cultural home, has been ignored as irrelevant," they said.
"To the extent that we could, our concern in this matter has been made clear to several representatives of the US government," said the Leaders.
While the testing is important, it cannot be carried out at the expense of personal and community security, the security of future generations, and "the security of our fragile island environment," they said.
"Our fear in Kwajalein Atoll has now taken a turn into a nightmare for our people are not only living in close proximity to some very powerful tracking radars, but the missiles fired into our lagoon will create conditions that will make it impossible for untold future generations to derive any form of sustenance in this God given natural resources - a resource that has been their main source of livelihood for centuries," the letter states.
The Kwajalein traditional leaders and landowners proposed that a third independent scientific party, "that is unbiased, and familiar with issues similar to our case, undertake assessment and evaluation of the impact of past and present US military activities in Kwajalein Atoll."
A determination of whether existing equipment, practices, as well as future programs of the US military in Kwajalein Atoll carry the potential of creating risks and damages to the lives of the inhabitants and the environment, now and in the future, was included in the proposal, as well as monitoring and assessment based on the outcome of the investigation.
The Leaders said that in times past they have retreated into their voiceless community, but this time, they have decided to make a stand against what they believe to be unjust and unfair, and they hope that others' influence will make the difference they need.