Marshall Islands

         

The Kwajelein and Bikini atolls of the Marshall Islands were thrust into modern history in February 1844 when heavy bombing by combined US naval and air force units hit the islands. this was followed by a prolonged and bloody battle which ended with the defeat of the Japanese and the occupation of the islands. Countless lives were lost but the military command considered it was a fair price to pay for the islands given that strategic position.

In 1979, the US proposed to make an Associated Free State with the four administrative units of the region, the Kwajelein and Bikini atolls, plus the Mariana and Caroline islands which were also trust territories. The Marshall Islands were granted jurisdiction over local and foreign affairs but the US declared the islands military territory for specific use. In 1961, Kwajelein became the Pacific experimental missile target area, especially for intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from California, and early in the 1980s the US chose the atoll as a testing site for its new MX missiles. the local population was evicted and entry was forbidden to civilians. Twenty three nuclear tests were performed there between 1946 and 1958, including the detonation of the first H=bomb. Despite the legacy of cancer, thyroid diseases and leukemia left behind by the bomb, the inhabitants of the atoll insisted on returning to their homeland after having been transferred to the Rongerik atoll in 1979, testing revealed that 139 of the total 600 inhabitants living on the Bikini atoll had extremely dangerous levels of plutonium in their bodies.

The inhabitants of Bikini, together with those living on Rongelap (also exposed to the radioactivity of the H-bomb dropped on bikini) used the US Government for $450 million. Abnormalities already existed in children under 10 years of age and could not be eliminated. The charges were filed together with reports compiled by US Government agencies proving that local people had been intentionally exposed to radioactivity in 1954 in order to study the effects of the bomb on human. Reports revealed by the US Government in 1995 proved the dangers of exposure were known but this had never been passed on to the Marshall islands population. In April 1990, the US announced that it would use the area to destroy all the nerve gas supplies which had been installed in Europe to date. Environmentalists denounced plans to dispose of 25 million tons of toxic waste on one of the archipelago's atolls between 1989 and 1994.

In October 1986, the US and the Marshall Islands signed a pact, whereby the letter became a Free Associated State, responsible for its own internal politics. According to the pact, the US would be responsible for the defense of the new state for a period of 15 years, which would enable the US to have an air base on the island, and entitle the island to US financial aid. In the first elections of the new state, held in 1986, Amata Kabua was elected President. On September 17 1990, during the 46tyh UN General Assembly, held in New York, the Marshall Islands were accepted as a member state of the organization. Chancellor Tony de Brun founded the Ralic Ratac Democratic Party in June 1991, after distancing himself from President Kabua who, after being re-elected for a fourth consecutive term, died in December 1996. In January 1997, Parliament appointed Imata Kabua, cousin of the deceased, as the new president.

In June the opposition won a suspension of the storage of nuclear waste. the government announced the construction of a large hotel and casino complex, funded with South Korean capital. In February 1998, the Asian banks expressed satisfaction with economic reform which, according to the Government, related to the end of US aid. The Marshall Islands Government started talks with Washington to form a free Association Agreement similar to that between the US and Micronesia. This would establish the sovereignty of the island, the right of the people to their own constitution and self-rule, and the possibility of withdrawing from the Agreement if either of the parties should so wish.

In June the Government decided on a 12.5 per cent salary reduction for all state workers which caused protests. the fiscal deficit, one of the government's greatest economic problems resisted reduction. In the legislative elections of November 15, 1999, the opposition United Democratic Party took 18 of the 33 seats. In January 2000, President Kessal Note was elected, he was previously speaker in the Nitigela (Legislature). Note announced that his aims were centred on anti-corruption policies, in response to denunciations made by the Money-Laundering Working Group, which pinpointed the island as amongst the states with most serious money-laundering problems. 

PROFILE

ENVIRONMENT

A total of 1.152 islands grouped in 34 atolls and 870 reefs. the land area covers 180 sq km, but the islands are scatted over a million sq km in the Pacific. the Atolls of Mili, Majuro, Maloelap, Wotje and Likiep lie to the north-east. the south-west atolls are Jaluit, Kwajalein, Rongelap, Bikini and Enewetak among others. The northern islands receive less rainfall than the southern atolls.

SOCIETY

Peoples; Sixty per cent of the population lives on Majuiro and Kwajelein. A large number of Kwajalein's residents are US military personnel. Most inhabitants are of native descent (96.9 per cent, with minority communities of Filippino (0.5 per cent) and others (2.6 per cent).
Religions: Prot4estant 90.1 per cent; roman Catholic 8.5 per cent; other 1.4 per cent.
Languages: Marshallese (kajin-majol), English.
Political Parties, Ralik Ratak Democratic Party; Kabua Party.

THE STATE

Official Name: Republic of the Marshall islands.
Administrative divisions 25 districts.
Capital: Majuro 33,000 people (1999).
Other cities: Ebeye 13,000 people; Jaluit 2,500 (2000).
Government: Parliamentary Republic: Kessai H Note, president of the islands' government since January 2000. High commissioner Janet McCoy is the US Government delegate and handles security, defense and foreign affairs. The Constitution rovides for a 33-member parliament which appoints the local President.
National holiday: May 1, Proclamation of the Republic (1979), October 26, Independence Day (1986)
Armed Forces: No regular military forces.

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 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 11th May 2008)
      
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