• Kyodo

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Twenty-seven former Hansen’s disease patients living in two state-run sanitariums in Okinawa said Thursday they will attend for the first time a memorial service Saturday for those who died in the Battle of Okinawa.

Twenty-six people from a sanitarium in Nago, northern Okinawa, and one from Hirara on Miyako Island in the prefecture, are scheduled to attend the ceremony marking the 56th anniversary of the end of a battle that saw more than 200,000 Okinawans die.

According to sanitarium residents, some 450 Hansen’s disease patients died before and during the battle.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who last month said the government would not appeal a landmark court ruling ordering the state to compensate former Hansen’s disease patients for forcing them into isolation, will also attend the ceremony.

The Okinawa Prefectural Government had previously sent invitations to the heads of state-run sanitariums but this year it directly asked the former patients if they would attend the ceremony.

Masaharu Kinjo, head of a residents’ group at Okinawa Airaku-en, the Nago sanitarium, said their attendance at the ceremony will mark the starting point of former patients’ participation in society following the landmark Kumamoto District Court ruling.

The sanitarium residents are asking that the prefecture add the names of Hansen’s disease patients who died during the battle to the Cornerstone of Peace, a monument in Peace Memorial Park in Itoman where the names of 278,000 victims of the battle — including Americans and Koreans — are engraved.

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