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The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Okinawa
"Local politicians warn of an angry reaction if American military personnel are found to have been involved"
 real 56k

Monday, 2 July, 2001, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Tense atmosphere in Okinawa
US aircraft carrier
The US has maintained forces on Okinawa since WWII
By the BBC's Charles Scanlon

The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, said he has established good personal ties with President Bush during the first meeting between the two leaders at Camp David.

But opposition to the American military presence on Okinawa remains a persistent thorn in the relationship between the two countries.


Some Japanese people are scared of us for some reason

US marine
And the recent rape allegation against an American serviceman in the area has exacerbated the problem.

American enclave

On Saturday night in Okinawa, there is usually a raucous crowd in the bars near the largest American military base. The mood is boisterous rather than threatening, but this part of town is largely taken over by US marines and airmen.

It is in areas like this that most of the violent incidents in recent years have taken place - incidents which have helped inflame local opinion against the American military presence.

Demonstrators hold hands in a human chain around a US airbase
Many Okinawans resent the US military presence
Many new arrivals are surprised by the reaction of the locals. "Some Japanese people are scared of us for some reason," said one marine who had recently joined the base.

"Me personally - I'm a pretty nice person, but some people are just scared of me. I dunno why - because we're American, I dunno. We're just trying to have a good time," he said.

His friend, a relative veteran of 11 months in Okinawa, said that a lot of the problems in the bars are blown out of proportion.

"If you get a bunch of people in a bar, you get a fight eventually - even in the US. Over here, if a marine breaks something, or gets in a fight with someone, it's gonna be big news."

Rape allegation

In the latest case, a woman in her 20s says she was raped in a car park near the air base.


My personal feeling is just to demolish the bases from Okinawa, because we don't need them

Local Okinawan
For Mitsuko Tomon, who represents an Okinawan constituency in the Japanese parliament, it looks like another example of a young American serviceman out of control.

"Why does it happen so often?" she said. "It should not happen any more. Why do we have to tolerate this kind of thing?"

The American military authorities are trying hard to win over local people. They put on a musical festival at the Kadena air base, and invited civilians onto what is normally a closed area.

One Japanese man took some friends who were visiting from Tokyo. "My personal feeling is just to demolish the bases from Okinawa, because we don't need them," he said.

The base is just like a sprawling American suburb. It reminds locals just how much of their island has been taken over by the Americans.

Relocation demands

map of Okinawa
The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, told Okinawans recently that he sympathised with their demands to relocate the marines, who are accused of causing most of the trouble.

But local journalist Tomahiro Yara says he doesn't expect much action.

"I'm very sceptical about that, because Koizumi did not mention a specific policy about a solution to the Okinawa issue," he said.

"Also, Minister Tanaka told us she's going to find some way of reducing the training of marines, but the presence is still there."

And that's the nub of the problem. Okinawans believe the government in Tokyo puts its military ties with Washington above their interests.

The changes and redeployments proposed so far amount to just tinkering at the edges. The marines have been here since they first waded ashore in World War II, and they look set to remain for the foreseeable future.

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See also:

30 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
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Okinawa urges US troops cutback
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Okinawa curfew after sex charges
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