Monday, December 6, 1999

Island may be lost
for military training

Bullet The issue: Puerto Rican leaders have rejected a deal offered by President Clinton to phase out bombing exercises on the island of Vieques.

Bullet Our view: The military's need for training sites cannot be sacrificed to local concerns without paying a price in combat readiness.

PUERTO Rican leaders have turned down a proposal by President Clinton to defuse a controversy over the military use of Vieques, a small Puerto Rican island that has been used as a practice bombing site.

The compromise plan was based on a recommendation by Defense Secretary William Cohen that called for ending all military training on Vieques in five years and barring live-bomb exercises on the island in the meantime unless the island's residents accepted them.

Rejection of the president's compromise offer leaves the outcome of the dispute uncertain. But there should be no misunderstanding of the importance of the issue to the military's need for combat readiness.

The controversy has elements resembling the campaign waged in Hawaii to end the use of Kahoolawe, believed to have been a place of refuge in pre-Western contact Hawaii, as a bombing site. Military use of Kahoolawe ended in 1990 after 50 years of bombing exercises and several protest occupations of the otherwise uninhabited island.

In the case of Vieques, 9,000 civilians live on the island.Because the training site is considered highly important to military readiness, the Pentagon offered a $40 million community economic development program as an incentive to the civilian population to consent to the continuation of the training operations.

The controversy over Vieques began in the 1970s when the Navy stopped using the neighboring island of Culebra. Last April the bombing was halted after a civilian guard was killed by a bomb that was dropped off target on an observation post.

Under the plan, the military would reduce the number of training days from 180 to 90 per year. Over the next five years, the Navy would develop alternatives to the use of Vieques and all training operations would end unless the people of Vieques approved their continuation.

The first force to be affected by the decision, the USS Eisenhower battle group, is being sent to the Mediterranean without training on Vieques.

The Pentagon said the Marines with the Eisenhower, instead of using Vieques, will conduct an amphibious assault on the North Carolina coast, and Navy strike aircraft will conduct bombing runs at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Officials said that under the terms of the recommendation the Eisenhower battle group probably will deploy to the Mediterranean in February at a reduced state of combat readiness.

THE Navy has argued that the island is irreplaceable in preparing U.S. forces for combined land, sea and air operations in the Atlantic. Kahoolawe had a similar role in the Pacific. In the case of Kahoolawe, the military was also forced to find alternatives although they were not fully adequate.

The demands to surrender such sites are understandable. Nobody wants bombs falling in their backyard. But it would be foolish to reject the military's assessments of the value of such activities. Effective training is crucial to success in battle. The nation must find ways to provide that training while dealing with complaints from civilians.

Hong Kong ruling is
setback for autonomy

Bullet The issue: Hong Kong's highest court has acknowledged the right of China to reinterpret Hong Kong laws.

Bullet Our view: The decision casts doubt over Hong Kong's autonomy.

HONG Kong's supposed autonomy under the terms of its return to Chinese rule has been compromised by a ruling of the territory's highest court. The Court of Final Appeal found that China has the right to reinterpret Hong Kong's laws -- nullifying the same court's earlier decision.

The high court was reviewing an appeal by 17 mainland Chinese who had claimed a constitutional right to live in the territory because they have at least one parent there.

Last January, the court ruled that the territory's constitution granted any child of a Hong Kong resident the right to live in Hong Kong.

HOWEVER, in June the standing committee of the Chinese National People's Congress overturned that ruling. Now the Hong Kong court has accepted the authority of the People's Congress to reinterpret Hong Kong law and to impose its views on the territory's courts.

Hong Kong's appointed governor, Tung Chee-hwa, had asked the People's Congress to reinterpret the immigration law because he feared the territory would be swamped by immigrants claiming a Hong Kong parent.

The development appears to open the way for more interference in the territory by Beijing. The Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor group said, "It is now clear as a result of this judgment that any part of the Basic Law can be 'interpreted' at any time by the Beijing government to mean whatever it wants it to mean and the Hong Kong courts will be powerless to resist."

Under the 1984 agreement with Britain for the return of Hong Kong, China agreed to respect Hong Kong's political, legal and economic system. This ruling is a major crack in that agreement.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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