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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 18:38 GMT
Okinawa: Island of resentment
US aircraft carrier
The US has maintained forces on Okinawa since WWII
There have been long-standing tensions on Okinawa between residents and the thousands of US troops based there.

map of okinawa
Okinawa was occupied by US forces after World War II and reverted to Japanese rule in 1972.

But American bases still occupy 20% of the land, and Okinawans are reminded every day that they share their island with a foreign army.

Many Okinawans object to the fact that while the island makes up only 1% of Japan's land, it is expected to play host to the majority of the 47,000 American troops stationed in the country.

Rape

But that resentment has been heightened in recent years by a number of crimes and alleged incidents involving US soldiers.


Because of Okinawa's experience in the war, most people are allergic to the American military bases

Tateo Kishimoto
There was a strong backlash against the American presence in 1995 after three marines raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

Last year a soldier was accused of failing to stop after injuring a Japanese civilian in a traffic accident.

And another was charged with sexual assault after allegedly breaking into an apartment and molesting a 14-year-old girl.

The top US military official, Lieutenant General Earl Hailston, made an unprecedented apology to the island's authorities after the sexual assault, even before the soldier had been charged.

Gen Hailston
General Hailston: Unhappy about resolution
But when a marine sergeant was arrested last month for allegedly lifting up the skirt of a local schoolgirl to take photographs it appears Okinawa had had enough.

The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly promptly passed an unprecedented resolution, calling for the US to reduce its military presence on the islands and to do more to prevent similar incidents.

It was this move that reportedly led to General Hailston calling the island's officials "nuts" and "wimps" in a private e-mail sent to his staff. He has since apologised.

New base

Okinawa is still the key to American military power in the region - US marines could be deployed to Korea or Taiwan within a few hours from their Okinawan bases.


I think they are all nuts and a bunch of wimps

General Earl Hailston's e-mail to US officers
The US is now planning to build another base at Henoko on the underdeveloped east coast, which has so far remained a pocket of relative tranquillity.

It says it needs Henoko because it agreed three years ago to close an existing base in a more populated area following public pressure.

Local mayor Tateo Kishimoto gave his reluctant approval to the new base in 1999, but was far from happy about it.

"Because of Okinawa's experience in the war, most people are allergic to the American military bases. And I'm one of them. I'm also allergic to the bases," he said.

The battle for Okinawa was the bloodiest of the war of the Pacific - 200,000 people were killed.

Okinawans believe they are still paying the price more than half a century later.

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06 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
E-mail provokes Okinawa fury
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