BY DOUG JENNESS
ST. PAUL, Minnesota - In the largest protest rally in Okinawa's history tens of thousands turned out October 21 to demand the removal of U.S. troops. Some 12,000 demonstrated in Tokyo. The action on the Japanese island, 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo, was the latest in a series of protests there since September 4, the day three U.S. soldiers raped a 12-year-old girl. Estimates of the size of the October 21 action ranged from 50,000 by the police to 80,000 by demonstration organizers.
Some 29,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed on Okinawa, nearly half of the 63,000 deployed at 94 sites throughout Japan.
The three U.S. soldiers - Marine Pfcs. Rodrico Harp and Kendrick Ledet and Naval seaman Marcus Gill - are in Japanese custody. However, they weren't turned over by U.S. military authorities on the island until September 29, after three weeks of protests. In addition to street demonstrations, more than 40 local assemblies adopted resolutions calling for a revision of special legal procedures for U.S. military suspects.
The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty signed in 1960 states that U.S. officials aren't required to turn over military personnel suspected of crimes until indictments are made. This policy has led to U.S. soldiers accused of illegal actions in Japan being transferred to the United States before they could be tried. This preferential treatment, which doesn't apply to U.S. soldiers in Germany or other countries where they are stationed, has been a source of considerable aggravation for a long time.
Marine commandant Gen. Charles Krulak argues that the recent rape was an aberration. However, since 1972 when Okinawa was returned to Japanese administration (it had been under U.S. administration since 1945), U.S. soldiers have committed 12 murders and 4,500 other crimes, including, rapes, robberies, and vandalism. This pattern of abusive behavior has been exacerbated by the fact that 20 percent of the land area of the island is being used by the U.S. military and U.S. exercises are a hazard to the population. For example, live open fire is not uncommon over major highways.
Moreover the Okinawa Prefecture (comparable to a state in the United States) is the poorest in the country. Some 1 million Japanese live on the island.
The protests have gone beyond demanding that the three U.S. soldiers be tried in a Japanese court on the rape charge to calling for the removal of U.S. troops. It's the largest expression of opposition to the U.S. military presence in Japan since protests in the early 1960s against the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.
The governor of Okinawa announced on September 29 that he would refuse to sign renewals of land lease agreements for U.S. military facilities. When a top Japanese Defense Ministry official came to Okinawa to placate the governor, he refused to meet with him.
On October 19 Japanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama announced that he would attempt to convince Washington to relocate some of its troops on Okinawa to other parts of Japan. He is expected to raise this with President Bill Clinton in November when the U.S. president goes to Tokyo for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
The Okinawa protests are contributing to already existing debates in both U.S. and Japanese ruling circles over military relations between the two countries. In Japan there is growing pressure from some big business interests to move more rapidly to develop Japan's independent military force parallel to its growing economic weight and assertiveness in Asia. For example, after more than four decades of military non-intervention, Japanese military forces have recently begun participating in United Nations military missions.
Other forces believe it is more advantageous for Japanese capitalism to maintain its military ties to Washington, fearing the possibility of destabilizing protests at home and in Asia, especially in China and Korea where abuses by Japanese occupation forces were the most horrible during World War II.
In the United States, while there have been some voices in ruling circles arguing that the military treaty between Tokyo and Washington needs serious revision because it was forged in response to purported Soviet threats during the "cold war," the prevailing view is to attempt to maintain the military links while getting Japan to foot a bigger portion of the bill. They argue that with the loss of its air and naval bases in the Philippines and the growing economic and military strength of China in the region, Washington needs to maintain a strong military presence.
Last month the Japanese government signed an agreement upping its contribution to funding U.S. troops by 2 percent. It pays $5 billion per year for the U.S. troops and its current military budget is the third highest in the world.
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