25 Jul 2002

Marshall Islands landowners want a place at negotiations

10:25 am on 25 July 2002

A landowners group in the Marshall Islands is calling for the government to allow them to be present at negotiations after the United States rejected their proposal over Kwajalein.

Christopher Loeak, the chairman of the Kwajalein Negotiation Commission, says he's not sure what will happen next after the US refused to discuss a two billion US dollar deal to extend the use of the missile defence testing range.

The US has said it's interested in using the site until 2043 but only at the present rental.

Mr Loeak says this is not acceptable.

"The landowners have rejected their offer and it's symbolic and roll over things to continue their lease for a longer period than it is now in the Compact. Our position is we are now going for a longer arrangement and failing that we should be negotiating on the termination of this lease in 2016."

Under the present agreement, Kwajalein landowners receive about 11 point 2 million dollars a year in rental payments.

Mr Loeak says he wants to be able to negotiate face to face with the Americans but the government is shutting out the landowners from being able to do so.

The Kwajalein missile range is playing a central role in the U.S. administration's accelerated push for a deployable missile defence system.