ITOMAN, Okinawa Pref. – Okinawa Prefecture on Sunday marked the 57th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, the only World War II ground battle fought against Allied forces on civilian-settled land in Japan.
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine urged the central government to resolve problems related to U.S. bases in his prefecture. He made a peace declaration during a memorial ceremony at Peace Memorial Park in the city of Itoman, on the southern part of the island of Okinawa.
In April, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration submitted the country’s first package of bills aimed at constructing a legal framework for the government to follow in responding to military attacks.
The administration’s move has caused concern, especially in Okinawa, that a promilitary mood is becoming more prevalent in Japan despite the war-renouncing Constitution.
“The issue of the bases is one related to the security of Japan, and is a vital task that the entire Japanese people must tackle,” Inamine said at the ceremony.
Okinawa, about 1,500 km southwest of Tokyo, accounts for only 0.6 percent of Japan’s territory, but represents 75 percent of the land occupied by U.S. forces in Japan.
Inamine also urged the central government and the Diet “to deal with problems in a determined manner, such as through the consolidation and reduction of U.S. bases, a review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, and the prevention of crimes and accidents.”
He was referring to a number of crimes and accidents that allegedly involve U.S. soldiers stationed in Okinawa and to SOFA’s limitations on what the Japanese police can do when handling such incidents.
In a speech, Koizumi resolved to make efforts to solve the problems. He is the fourth Japanese prime minister to attend the ceremony.
“The presence of the U.S. military in Okinawa contributes significantly to peace and security, not only in Japan, but also in the Asia-Pacific region. But on the other hand, it is true the concentration of (U.S. military) facilities is a heavy burden on the people in the prefecture,” he said.
Koizumi said he will make “sincere” efforts to reduce the burden, but did not elaborate.
The prime minister also said the government will soon draft a plan to boost economic activity in Okinawa and help it achieve self-sustaining economic growth.
Neither Inamine nor Koizumi, however, mentioned anything about the bills on war contingencies.
During the ceremony, a participant angry about the government-proposed war legislation shouted at Koizumi that he should not be attending the ceremony.
“We will never allow the war legislation. Koizumi should go home,” shouted Seiko Miyagi, an assembly member of Kita-Nakagusuku in the middle of Okinawa Prefecture.
Immediately after his outburst, a number of attendees voiced support for Miyagi and applauded.
Participants at the event included Okinawa affairs minister Koji Omi, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi, and House of Councilors President Hiroyuki Kurata. Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, top commander of U.S. forces in Okinawa, also joined the ceremony.
The names of 252 people who died in the 1945 battle, including 13 South Koreans, have been newly inscribed on the park’s Cornerstones of Peace. A total of 238,408 people, mostly civilians, have their names engraved on the memorial. The names of victims of the battle have been inscribed regardless of nationality. June 23 is a local holiday in the prefecture. It commemorates the end of the battle in which more than one-fourth of Okinawa’s population of 450,000 died.
This year also marks the 30th anniversary of Okinawa’s return to Japan after being under U.S. control from the end of World War II to 1972.
Memories of the confrontations between Okinawan civilians and soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army during and before the battle remain fresh in the minds of locals. Combined with the ongoing problems with the U.S. military, concerns linger that the government is attempting to prepare people for military conflict by submitting the bills on emergencies and war contingencies.
Some measures planned under the envisioned war legislation include possible infringements on human rights since the activities of the Self-Defense Forces would take priority in such emergencies.
Inamine has demanded that the central government step up debate in the Diet about the role of the U.S. military in such emergencies. Okinawa says such requests have gone almost unheard.
Lawmakers in the opposition camp and even some in Koizumi’s ruling bloc are opposing or questioning the set of bills. They feel many crucial issues, such as the definition of “emergency,” have not been clarified.
Many leaders of local municipalities are also unhappy. They are concerned about the lack of clarity regarding their responsibilities in carrying out central government orders under the envisioned war legislation.
Soko Shimabukuro, a House of Councilors member from an Okinawa-based political party, released a statement Friday demanding that the prime minister cancel his visit to Okinawa. It said it is inappropriate for Koizumi — who backs the new legislation — to pay homage at the cornerstones and attend the peace ceremony.
Last Monday, seven women, including some who were formerly in the Okinawa-based Himeyuri student nursing corps during the war, visited the Cabinet Office in Tokyo and urged Koizumi to scrap the bills.
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