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Sunday, 11 February, 2001, 16:00 GMT
Sub collision heightens tensions
USS Greeneville
USS Greeneville: Struck Japanese trawler
The sinking off a Japanese trawler following a collision with a US submarine off Hawaii came at a time of increasingly tense relations between Japan and the US.

Even after a swift apology from the US, the accident will add to perennial resentment over the US military presence in Japan, particularly on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

We want to prevent the accident from having an adverse effect on Japan-US relations - but the timing is really bad

Japanese foreign ministry spokesman
The military alliance has been tested by a series of sex attacks committed against women and children in Okinawa by US servicemen.

The accident took place just two days after the US military commander on Okinawa apologised for calling its administrators "nuts" and "a bunch of wimps" after the local assembly demanded a cut in the massive number of US troops on the Japanese island.

The resolution was prompted by the recent arrest of a marine sergeant for taking indecent photographs of a local schoolgirl.

Increased tensions

At time of the February's accident, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori accepted the US apology.

"The US side has apologised and explained that it was doing its utmost in the search," said Japanese Premier Yoshiro Mori.

map of okinawa
Mr Mori's top aide also said the apology could mean that Washington has acknowledged it was to blame for the accident which sank the Japanese boat from a fisheries high school in Uwajima, western Japan.

But Hiromu Nonaka, a senior member of Mr Mori's ruling Liberal-Democratic Party, called for prudence in handling the case.

"The United States is humbly begging pardon for what it deemed as an inexcusable mistake," he said.

'Mutual trust'

"We must remain calm and attentive in learning lessons from this accident within the context of mutual trust between Japan and the United States."

A Japanese foreign ministry official told the Jiji Press news agency: "We want to prevent the accident from having an adverse effect on Japan-US relations.

"But the timing is extremely bad," he added, citing the Okinawan situation.

Gen Hailston
General Hailston: Unhappy about resolution
Okinawa was occupied by US forces after World War II and reverted to Japanese rule in 1972, although it remains of strategic importance for military deployment in Korea and Taiwan.

But American bases holding 47,000 American troops still occupy 20% of the land.

There was a strong backlash against the American presence in 1995 after three marines raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl in the worst of a series of attacks by servicemen.

But after the recent arrest of a marine on charges of taking indecent photographs politicians in Okinawa lost patience, passing an unprecedented resolution calling for the US to reduce its military presence.

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.

The US is now planning to build another base at Henoko, because of a closure elsewhere, on the underdeveloped east coast, which has so far remained a pocket of relative tranquillity.

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See also:

11 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Trawler relatives fly to Hawaii
10 Feb 01 | World
Danger from the deep
06 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
E-mail provokes Okinawa fury
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