The Associated Press
March 25, 2001

Group Urges End to Vieques Bombing


              SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- An interdenominational Christian group in the
              United States is urging President Bush to halt U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the
              small Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

              Representative of 36 denominations affiliated with the National Council of Churches
              of Christ in the USA will sign a letter to Bush asking him to consider their pleas, Bob
              Edgar, the New York-based group's general secretary, said Sunday in San Juan.

              ``The majority of the people of Puerto Rico have demonstrated that they do not
              want Vieques to be a site for war exercises,'' the group said in the letter being
              circulated among its members.

              The Navy says Vieques is vital for national defense because its unique topography
              allows for simultaneous mock assaults by air, sea and land.

              The Navy owns two-thirds of the populated island, and its bombing range covers
              900 acres on the eastern tip nearly 10 miles from the civilian sector. It used live
              bombs until two went astray in a 1999 practice and killed a civilian guard on the
              bombing range.

              The bombing was halted and protesters occupied the range for more than a year
              before the Navy swept through and kicked them off in May.

              Under an agreement between then-President Clinton and then-Gov. Pedro Rossello,
              training resumed using inert bombs and Vieques' 9,400 residents will decide in a
              November referendum whether the Navy should stay or leave.

              Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the Navy to call off planned
              training exercises this month on Vieques, but it was not a permanent halt to training
              on the island.