Okinawans protest crimes by US troops

Published on Thursday, July 13, 2000 in the Frankfurter Rundschau (Germany)

Okinawans Outraged Over Crimes By Troops Of ‘Rogue Superpower America’

by Karl Grobe

Bowing to Japanese concerns about a string of incidents involving American troops stationed on Okinawa, United States military authorities on the Japanese island have this week imposed an indefinite curfew and alcohol ban on members of all its armed forces stationed there.

The ban comes less than a week before the three-day G-7 summit meeting on the island, scheduled to start on July 12, and less than two weeks ahead of US President Bill Clinton’s visit to the island for the G-8 international summit on July 21-23. He will be the first US leader to go to Okinawa since the island, captured during World War II, was returned to Japan in 1972.

The recent incidents have encouraged opponents of the American bases on Okinawa, who had been concerned that a July 20 protest rally would not draw enough people to circle Kadena Air Base. Until recently, Okinawan officials were taking great pains to separate the summit from the base issue.

Last week, a 19-year-old US Marine was arrested on charges of indecency and unlawful entry after he allegedly walked into an unlocked apartment in Okinawa City at night, crawled into the bed of a 14-year-old girl and fondled her. The unidentified Marine, who was apparently drunk, was arrested after the girl’s mother discovered her daughter screaming and called police. The Marine later said he wanted to visit a friend and entered the wrong house by mistake.

The incident triggered a wave of protest that’s hardly likely to subside before the G-7 and G-8 meetings get underway. Afterwards, Japan was treated to the sight of Lieutenant-General Earl Hailston of the United States Marine Corps, the highest-ranking American officer on Okinawa, bowing deeply to the prefecture’s governor in a striking display of contrition.

Early Sunday morning, a US Air Force staff sergeant was involved in a hit-and-run accident at the United States Air Force’s Kadena Air Base that left an Okinawan pedestrian injured. The sergeant was later caught. The authorities investigating the accident said it appeared that alcohol was involved.

The US Ambassador to Japan, Thomas Foley, visited Foreign Minister Yohei Kono in Tokyo on Monday to offer his regrets for the behaviour of US service members on Okinawa. “I have come to express to you my profound regret for the events in Okinawa, and to tell you that steps have been taken so this won’t happen again,” Foley said, according to Japanese news reports.

After the first incident, the provincial parliament in Naha, Okinawa’s capital, promptly issued a unanimous protest against “the frequent crimes of the US soldiers” which “strongly disturb and shock the people of the prefecture of Okinawa.” At a Saturday protest outside the Marine Corps headquarters, members of a women’s civic group recalled an incident five years ago in which three US servicemen were convicted of abducting a 12-year-old girl from a supermarket and repeatedly raping her. The three were tried by a Japanese court. Two of them were sentenced to seven years in prison, the third to six and a half years.

The behaviour of US service members stationed on Okinawa remains unchanged since that incident, claimed the group’s leader, Naha city assemblywoman Suzuyo Takazato as cited in the Japan Times, adding, “The best and only way to solve such a problem is to make the islands free of military bases.” “Okinawa is sitting atop a pool of molten lava,” Governor Keiichi Inamine told the liberal Asahi Shimbun newspaper, “and it can explode at any minute.” “I have never before heard the word bakuhatsu (explosion) as often as I did during visit ,” said Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, in an eight-part series for Asahi Shimbun. If the authorities take a hard-line stance, he said, simmering public outrage could boil over in a number of different forms – in a worst-case scenario, perhaps even in the form of bloody clashes between US troops and members of the Japanese Self-Defence Force.

About 26,000 of the 48,000 American military personnel in Japan are stationed in Okinawa or elsewhere in the Ryukyu Islands, along with about an equal number of American civilian employees – well over 50,000 all told. The 39 military bases there, which occupy more than 10 per cent of the island’s area, have been bones of contention since the 1960 signing of a new Japanese security treaty in Washington.

Minutes and notes also signed at the same time excluded Ryukyu and Bonin Islands from the area the new treaty covered. That agreement has been continuously extended even after the United States returned the rest of the islands to Japan in 1972.

In 1996, US President Clinton promised to return the American base at Futenma to Japan, but current plans just call for relocating the American facility to Nago, where a new airbase is also planned.

Okinawa’s protest movement had an effect on Japan’s parliamentary elections in June. Mitsuku Tomon, 57-year-old former deputy governor of Okinawa and an outspoken opponent of the American bases, won one of the island’s three seats in parliament. The recent reduction of tension in Korea, a subject due for discussion at the G-7 summit, eliminates the need for stationing US Marines and Air Force planes on Okinawa, according to the local peace movement. A columnist writing in the Los Angeles Times recently said that North Korea is not as big a problem now as the “rogue superpower America.”



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