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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 01:46 GMT 02:46 UK

World: Americas

Puerto Rico stands up to US

Local leaders say the the issue could damage relations with Washington

By Peter Greste

The Puerto Rican government has formally opposed the US presidential inquiry recommendation that the navy continue to use a Puerto Rican island to train its troops.

Correspondent Peter Greste: The issue has stirred strong nationalist feeling
The governor, Pedro Rossello, has told a Senate committee that the navy must not resume its live-firing exercises on the island of Vieques.

Mr Rossello is a close ally of President Clinton's and wants to turn his Caribbean island territory into the US's fifty-first State.

But the recommendation of the US presidential inquiry has sparked anti-US feeling throughout Puerto Rico.

[ image: Protesters have set up camps on the bombing range]
Protesters have set up camps on the bombing range
Mr Rossello formally told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the navy must not resume its live-firing exercises. He told the committee that there was a rare consensus amongst local leaders, who all want the navy out of Vieques and that its continued presence there could seriously damage relations between Puerto Rico and Washington.

The issue came to a head earlier this year when a navy pilot on a training run missed his target by almost three kilometres and killed a civilian guard.

That incident prompted President Clinton to appoint the Rush Commission to investigate the navy's presence on the island.

On Monday the commission recommended that the navy continue to use Vieques for five more years, but that it should use that time to find an alternative site.

The US Navy's top uniformed officer, Admiral J Johnson, said the Vieques training-ground was essential to keeping navy and Marine Corps forces ready to fight together on land, in the air and at sea.

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