Panama Refuses U.S. Plan To Clean Pacific Island

August 13, 2004

PANAMA CITY (AFP) – Panamarefused a U.S. plan Wednesday to cleanup the Panamanian Pacific island of SanJosé, contaminated during World War IIby weapons practice, announcedPanama’s Minister of Foreign Relations,Harmodio Arias.Arias explained the decision cameafter the United States demanded it beexempt from responsibility for the leakage“of any war supplies found there.”Since 1999 Panama has been asking theUnited States to clean up three shootingpractice grounds along the Panama Canalused by the U.S. Army between 1914 and1999 as well as San José island, located125 kilometers southwest of the capital.Arias said the offer from the UnitedStates “was not responsible for Panama,because we would have had to make ourselvesresponsible for any damage done tothe island.”The island, according to investigationsdone by Panama and North Americanecological groups, was used for chemicalweapons practice.U.S. Ambassador to Panama, LindaWatt, said the United States has made itsfinal offer.The United States has claimed, for thepast five years, that the technology necessaryto decontaminate the areas does notexist.“The proposal from the United Stateswas good in part, but we cannot exemptthem of the responsibility of leaving thosebombs there,” Arias said.The United States, which oversaw thebuilding of the Panama Canal between1904 and 1914, maintained thousands ofsoldiers in 14 military bases in Panamauntil it turned over the canal to Panamaon Dec. 31, 1999.During WWII, the United Statesinstalled 140 defensive sites in all nineprovinces of Panama, built airstrips andestablished warfare practice grounds,including the one on San José island.

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