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March 2, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – The National Council of Churches today hailed as "an important step" the Bush Administration’s announcement that it was suspending the U.S. Navy’s bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

"We welcome Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s announcement that he has called off planned training this month on Vieques," said the NCC’s General Secretary, Dr. Bob Edgar. "We fervently hope this will be more than a temporary reprieve, but rather the beginning of the end of the U.S. Navy’s 60-year presence on Vieques.

"The toll on the physical and mental health of the people of Vieques and the damage to the island’s ecology is well documented," said Dr. Edgar, who led an NCC delegation to Vieques in June 2000 and who has carried forward the Council’s long-standing demand for the U.S. military to withdraw from Vieques.

"The majority of the people of Puerto Rico have demonstrated that they do not want Vieques to be a site for war exercises. Puerto Rico’s churches – including Catholics, Protestants and Pentecostals – have joined forces in an unprecedented ecumenical coalition against continued use of Vieques for U.S. military exercises," he noted. "Their unanimous message is, ‘Not one more bomb in Vieques.’"

The Rev. Heriberto Martinez, Executive Secretary of the Evangelical Council of Churches, which represents most evangelical and some mainline Puerto Rican churches, also welcomed Rumsfeld’s announcement, saying, "The news is good. It is refreshing to the extent that we can stop the military exercises.

"But the ultimate news for we wait is the permanent cessation of all military practice on the island of Vieques," Martinez said today. "That would contribute to the realization for our brothers and sisters of Vieques of peace as a fruit of justice, which God wants for every human being and for all of creation."


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