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US court dismisses Pacific nuclear test lawsuits

world Updated: Feb 01, 2009 04:59 IST

A panel of US appeal judges on Friday dismissed a claim to enforce a billion-dollar compensation settlement for islanders from two former Pacific nuclear test sites, an attorney for the islanders said.

But the attorney said the ruling did not exonerate the US government for removing the residents of Bikini and Enewetak from their homes and leaving their atolls uninhabitable after the weapons tests.

A three-member panel of judges upheld a lower court ruling, which dismissed claims, filed in 2006 by the people of Bikini and Enewetak in the Marshall Islands, a former US territory in the Western Pacific.

The two atolls, the sites of 67 US nuclear tests from 1946 to 1958, had been awarded more than one billion dollars by the Nuclear Claims Tribunal for hardship, loss of use of the islands and clean up following the tests.

The tribunal was set up in a 1986 test settlement agreement with the US government, but it lacked funds to pay the award and the two communities took legal action to force Washington to honour the compensation.

But the appeals judges said that settlement, in also providing a 150 million dollar trust fund for nuclear compensation, removed US jurisdiction with the provision that the compensation constituted "the full settlement of all claims, past, present and future."

The judges did suggest the case had merit, but said that without jurisdiction they "cannot hear, let alone remedy, a wrong that is not within its power to adjudicate."

Bikini attorney Jonathan Weisgall said the ruling did not exonerate "America's stain" of displacing the people of Bikini and "using the atoll to help win the Cold War but taking completely inadequate measures to clean up the islands."