Panama accuses US over chemical weapons

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at
Fri Sep 7 08:11:39 MDT 2001

>From the Financial Times

Panama accuses US over chemical weapons
By Andrew Bounds in Panama City
Published: September 7 2001 01:15 | Last Updated: September 7 2001 01:18

Panama on Thursday accused the US of deceit after finding chemical weapons
on an island occupied by US forces in the second world war.

Announcing the evacuation and quarantine of San Jose, in the Pacific, Jose
Miguel Aleman, foreign minister, said the US had declared under the Chemical
Weapons Convention of 1993 that it had not left any chemical weapons in

"The US has declared that no chemical weapons exist in Panama. We have found
four bombs. They are intact and have detonators. The [US] Department of
Defense is wrong," Mr Aleman said.

The bombs were found by a mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition
of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that visited the island in July and verified they
are of US make.

Fernando Gracia, health minister, said the bombs could release a deadly gas
that travelled up to 2km, causing heart and skin problems.

Mr Aleman has sent the OPCW report, which he received on August 27, to the
US State department and written to Colin Powell, secretary of state,
demanding to know if there are other chemical weapons on Panamanian soil. He
did not say why the government had delayed evacuating the island.

The US tested chemical weapons there from 1943-48, but on Thursday said all
were expended or removed before the island was handed back to Panama in
1948. "We are reviewing the report," the state department said on Thursday.

Canada and Britain also conducted chemical weapons tests there.

Panama will use the discovery to advance its case for a renewed clean-up of
firing ranges used by US troops that occupied Panama until the end of 1999.
They occupy 25,105ha of the former US-run canal zone.

Mr Aleman said the US may have broken the Panama Canal treaties by failing
to clean up the ranges adequately. "If they were wrong with respect to the
island of San Jose they could be wrong with respect to the firing ranges,"
he said. "This strengthens our case for international arbitration."

The US claims it has cleaned the ranges "as much as is viable" and opposes
arbitration. "There is no connection between the two issues," said the US
embassy in Panama City.

Mr Aleman said Panama would seek compensation from Washington for the cost
of the quarantine and the loss of business at a hotel on the island.

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