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FBI Agents Remove Vieques Island Protesters, End Year-Long Standoff

Aired May 4, 2000 - 1:16 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. officials tell us they're mopping up after an early morning sweep to remove those protesters from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. FBI agents dressed in riot gear arrived at dawn to end a year-long standoff that has prevented the Navy from using Vieques for military exercises.

CNN's Mike Boettcher was there when the operation began. He's on the line with us now.

Is the mop-up complete, Mike?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just about, Lou. As we were being driven out of Camp Garcia today, we saw the first contingent of about 1,000 Marines were being brought in to patrol the base to make sure other protesters don't come in, and to also ensure that some of the protesters did not escape the federal marshals and the FBI.

As well, when we left the front gate, we saw that they were building a new gate, a stronger gate, to make sure that no other protesters are able to come in that direction.

At about 5:30 this morning, the Vieques squatters were suddenly confronted at that time with the inevitable -- their removal. Before them was a squadron of small Navy Zodiac boats, and behind them a small company of FBI agents who arrived in humvees. The protesters only choice at that point was to abandon the 14 separate camps that they'd established across the U.S. Navy firing range.

Now, the protesters promised nonviolent resistance, and they lived up to that pledge, locking arms and quietly sitting in the makeshift shack they had built a few months ago. A few feet away, a group of priests, nuns and Protestant ministers in a church that had been built sang hymns while they waited to be removed. A few demanded to be arrested and were handcuffed, but FBI negotiators convinced the majority to accept what was called an enforced removal which did not involve any sort of arrest.

The FBI agents, while armed with pistols and a few assault rifles, seemed determine not to be seen as using excessive force. Most of the agents quietly stood buy as others escorted protesters to waiting trucks that would transport them out of the base. The tactic worked. The potentially explosive situation ended relatively peacefully. There have been a scattering of protests around Puerto Rico, but nothing major, and we're expecting some sort of announcement from the governor of Puerto Rico sometime this afternoon.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, live, Vieques, Puerto Rico.

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