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Navy will give up Vieques bombing range



WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy will end controversial bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in May 2003, according to a Bush administration official traveling with the president in Europe.

That is the date an agreement with the Puerto Rican government allowing use of the Vieques bombing range expires.

One senior administration official told CNN that senior Navy officials met Wednesday with Karl Rove, a top Bush adviser, "to receive the Navy's guidance" on its needs and plans for Vieques.

Rove is Bush's top political adviser, policing how major policy decisions could impact target political constituencies.

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Pentagon sources had told CNN's Jamie McIntyre Wednesday night that the White House was ready to announce that use of the bombing range would end, but that the plans were put on hold in the face of angry reaction from Capitol Hill and the Navy.

Congressional conservatives see such plans as betrayal of the U.S. Navy by an administration that professed support for the military.

Georgia Republican Bob Barr expressed concern Wednesday night about halting the exercises. "There is no other place that we have where we can use live fire as we do in Vieques. That would put a serious hole in our ability to conduct training to protect our troops," Barr said on "CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports."

The U.S. military has conducted exercises on Vieques since 1941. Controversy over use of the island for bombing practice has grown since October 1999, when an errant bomb killed a civilian security guard. In late April, about 180 protesters were arrested at the main gates of the Navy facility on the island during the Navy's resumption of exercises.

Demonstrators claim that the island's 9,000 residents are at higher risk of cancer and are exposed to dangerous levels of noise. They want the bombing stopped permanently.

Under an agreement negotiated during the Clinton administration, Vieques residents will vote in November on whether to accept a package of economic incentives in return for allowing the Navy to continue using the range after May 2003. Until then, the Navy is using only non-explosive "inert ordnance" in its exercises.

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and its escort ships are scheduled to begin training exercises at Vieques this weekend, and demonstrations are expected.





RELATED STORIES:
RELATED SITES:
• History of Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
• U.S. Navy
• The U.S. Navy's Activities On The Island of Vieques

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