ITOMAN, Okinawa Pref. – Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine renewed his resolve for peace Monday during a ceremony marking the 58th anniversary of the end of the only World War II ground battle on Japanese soil.
“We pledge to contribute to creating international peace by continuing to send out to the world the ‘heart of Okinawa’ that wishes for peace,” Inamine said after a minute of silent prayer.
The event was held from 11:50 a.m. at Peace Memorial Park in the city of Itoman on southern Okinawa Island.
Inamine also called for the consolidation of U.S. military bases in Okinawa and a review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement in light of the recent arrest of a U.S. Marine on suspicion of raping a local woman last month in the town of Kin.
“Vast U.S. military bases remain in Okinawa, forcing the residents who want a peaceful island to bear the excessive burden of hosting them,” the governor said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent a message pledging efforts to reduce the U.S. military’s presence in the prefecture.
The prime minister had attended the event in each of the past two years.
State minister Hiroyuki Hosoda, who is in charge of Okinawa affairs, read Koizumi’s message, in which Koizumi said he would do his best to reduce Okinawa’s burden and urge the U.S. to prevent crimes by military personnel.
In the most recent rape case, the suspect, Lance Cpl. Jose Torres, 21, was turned over to prosecutors Friday.
“As for the pitiful incident last month, a handover before indictment was realized, but such an incident is quite regrettable and we will continue to call on the U.S. to enforce strict discipline and prevent a recurrence,” Koizumi said.
Under SOFA, Japanese police cannot arrest U.S. service members before indictment if a suspect remains under U.S. control. However, Washington agreed to give “sympathetic consideration” to hand over suspects in serious crimes, including rape, before charges are filed, following the 1995 gang rape of an Okinawa girl by three U.S. servicemen.
June 23 commemorates the end of the main fighting in Okinawa with the defeat of the Japanese forces following the March 26, 1945, U.S. landing.
After midnight struck on Sunday, Inamine released a statement pledging to relate the horrors of war to the next generation and calling on residents to observe a minute of silent prayer at homes and offices at midday.
“With more than 200,000 precious lives lost . . . we cannot put behind the magnitude of the victims even now, 58 years after the war,” Inamine said amid local concerns over the recent enactment of Japan’s first war-contingency legislation and other military-related moves in Tokyo.
Noting that the lessons of the battle must not be forgotten, he said, “We must relate the horrors of war and the preciousness of peace to the next generation.”
About 40 guests, including local students, offered flowers to the spirits of all who died in the 1945 battle, including Allied soldiers, Koreans and people from Taiwan.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government recently engraved 164 names on the Cornerstone of Peace in Peace Memorial Park, bringing the total of war dead whose names have been inscribed on the rows of memorial stone tables to 238,429.
The increase was partly due to a relaxation of rules on non-Okinawans eligible for inclusion on the monument. The names of those who died before or after the battle or on nearby islands were previously ineligible.
The organizers shortened the time for the memorial service by some 20 minutes to 50 minutes to make it easier for aging survivors, victims’ relatives and others to attend in the hot weather.
The Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Pacific theater during World War II, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 people, including more than 14,000 U.S. soldiers and roughly one-third of Okinawa’s population of some 450,000 at the time.
The suffering of the people during the war is often behind their widespread pacifism and opposition to any military-related moves in Tokyo, including the war-contingency legislation enacted earlier this month and a bill recently submitted to the Diet to allow Self-Defense Forces elements to be sent to postwar Iraq.
Okinawa came under U.S. control after the war and was returned to Japan in 1972.
Okinawans are also concerned about crimes and other incidents involving U.S. military personnel. The number of U.S. service members, military employees and their dependents charged with offenses, including theft, fell to 33 from 62 in 1996 following the 1995 gang rape, but began rising again in 1997, topping 100 for the first time in a decade last year, according to local police.
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