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The BBC's Charles Scanlon reports from Okinawa
"Resentment at the American presence flared up five years ago"
 real 28k

Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Okinawa: Island of resentment
Demonstrators hold hands in a human chain around a US airbase
Demonstrators hold hands in a human chain around a US airbase
Okinawa was a controversial choice for the location of the G8 summit because of the longstanding tensions between residents and thousands of US troops who are based there.

The decision to host it on the island was made by the former Japanese Prime Minister, Keizo Obuchi, who died of a stroke in May.

He and other Japanese officials may have calculated that the island's remoteness would make it inaccessible to protesters like those who disrupted the world trade talks in Seattle last year.

However, in the run-up to the summit the islanders themselves have taken to the streets - calling for measures to reduce crime by US soldiers, and for the bases to be closed.

Base controversy

Demonstrations during the summit are also anticipated.

map of okinawa
The island is home to more than half the 46,000 American troops stationed in Japan, and many Okinawans see the occasion as an opportunity to express their resentment.

It's 55 years since the Americans invaded, but their bases still occupy 20% of the land, and Okinawans are reminded every day that they share their island with a foreign army.

Yet another base is being planned - at Henoko on the underdeveloped east coast, which has so far remained a pocket of relative tranquillity.

The US military needs this new base, because it agreed three years ago to close an existing base in a more populated area, as a result of public pressure.

However, there is growing local opposition.

Allergy

A group of residents says it will deliver a protest petition to President Clinton when he arrives for the G8 meeting.


Most people are allergic to the American military bases - and I'm one of them

Tateo Kishimoto, Mayor of Nago
Their leader, Yuji Kinjo, says the new airbase will have a devastating effect on the local environment - he's worried that the airbase will be built right on top of the coral reef in the middle of the bay.

"I can't understand why a new base is needed," he says, "not now when the region is becoming more peaceful."

Another volunteer from the village, Noriko Oruku, who was in her early 20s when the Americans first started bombarding the island, says she was one of the lucky ones because she escaped to mainland Japan shortly before the invasion began.

Tateo Kishimoto, the mayor of Nago where the summit is being held, is at the centre of the dispute.

He gave his reluctant approval to the new base last year - but only after a promise of massive financial aid for his district. He's still 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 says.

Apology

Resentment at the American presence flared up in 1995 ago after three marines raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl.

A child writes graffiti on the perimeter fence of a US base
A child writes graffiti on the perimeter fence of a US base
In recent weeks one soldier has been accused of failing to stop after injuring a Japanese civilian in a traffic accident, while another has been charged with sexual assault on a 14-year-old girl.

In the aftermath of these cases the troops are on their best behaviour.

A late night curfew has been imposed on the entertainment areas that surround the bases, and for four days the soldiers are banned from drinking alcohol.

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

There's concern that another rape or murder at such a sensitive time could have a far reaching impact.

Regional power base

Japan plans to send 10,000 policemen to Okinawa to keep the peace during the summit.

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

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

The people of Okinawa believe they're still paying the price more than half a century later.

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