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The wives of the leaders of the Group of Eight nations will visit a peace memorial in Okinawa while in the prefecture for the G8 summit slated for July 21-23, government sources said Tuesday.

The wives will visit Heiwa no Ishiji (Cornerstone of Peace) memorial, which bears the names of victims of the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, the sources said.

Tokyo arranged the visit after Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine filed petitions with the embassies of each country asking their leaders to visit U.S. bases in Okinawa and the memorial during the summit.

The central and Okinawa Prefectural governments have arranged the visit to emphasize the significance of Okinawa as the summit site, and to convey to the world Okinawa’s wish for peace, the sources said.

The visit to the memorial will be included in the official itinerary for the wives, the sources said.

The wives are expected to visit the memorial, which is located in Itoman, about 50 km from the summit venue in Nago, and pray for world peace with 200 Okinawan children at the Flame of Peace, located in the center of the memorial, the sources said.

According to the Foreign Ministry, it is still unclear whether U.S. President Bill Clinton will be accompanied by his wife, Hillary, or his daughter, Chelsea.

The memorial was established in June 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the battle in Itoman, on the southern tip of Okinawa Island, where some of the heaviest fighting of the war occurred.

The memorial is dedicated to those who died in the battle, and lists the names of civilians and soldiers of the Japanese and Allied forces, including those of countries then under Japanese colonial rule.

The memorial features 116 stone monuments, and currently lists the names of more than 237,000 people who lost their lives in the battle.

Okinawa was the only place in Japan that experienced ground battles during the war. About one-third of Okinawa’s population of 450,000 died during the fighting.

Base time-limit debate

The commander of U.S. forces in Japan on Tuesday reiterated Washington’s opposition to a 15-year time limit on the U.S. military’s use of a new airport to be built in Nago, northern Okinawa.

Lt. Gen. Paul Hester said at the Japan National Press Club that the two nations should settle the issue with decisions based on the international environment.

“I think it is the environment of what’s happening in Asia and the environment of what’s happening worldwide that should move our governments to make rational decisions at that moment, as opposed to selecting an arbitrary time limit today,” Hester said.

The new joint civilian-military airport will handle the heliport functions presently conducted from the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in densely populated Ginowan, central Okinawa Prefecture.

Under the 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa accord, the Futenma base was to be returned to Japan within five to seven years on condition the heliport functions of the base be relocated.

The governments of Okinawa and Nago have been lobbying for the time restriction both directly and via the Japanese central government, but Washington is opposed to setting any time limit.

Hester said the U.S. government understands and recognizes Okinawa’s opposition to its military presence. He said relocation of the heliport functions from the centrally located Futenma to Nago shows his country’s eagerness to reduce the forces’ impact on Okinawa.

Referring to bilateral negotiations on renewing a five-year accord on Japan’s host-nation financial support for the U.S. military, Hester suggested that such contributions are essential to maximize the effects of the $300 billion annual military budget.

The two nations have been negotiating renewal of the host-nation treaty, which stipulates that Japan cover all yen-based costs incurred by U.S. forces in Japan for labor, utilities and training relocation. The current accord will expire in March 2001.

Some Japanese lawmakers have called for cuts in Japan’s financial burden due to tight finances in the midst of a prolonged economic slump. The U.S., however, is opposed to such a move.

Host-nation support commenced in fiscal 1978 when the U.S. economy was foundering and Japan’s cost of living had skyrocketed amid robust economic growth. To give the support a legal framework, the treaty was drawn up in 1987. It has been renewed twice, in 1991 and 1996.

In fiscal 2000, which started April 1, Japan earmarked 121.1 billion yen for labor costs, 29.7 billion yen for utilities and 300 million yen for training relocation.