National | Regional Voices: Okinawa

Okinawa residents live in fear of stray munitions from U.S. practice range

The Okinawa Times

The proximity of Okinawa Prefecture’s Igei Ward in the town of Kin to a U.S. Marine Corps live shooting range puts residents at constant risk of stray bullets and other munitions landing on private property, ripping through roofs or even injuring civilians.

In the latest of a string of incidents, three flares attached to white parachutes were found in the neighborhood between Dec. 5 and 6 — one in a rice paddy near a residential area, another tangled in the branches of a tree and the third lying in the street. The U.S. military has admitted they were fired during an exercise held at Camp Hansen.

“Three flares were found in our neighborhood. … That is scary,” said 40-year-old local farmer Hisashi Uezu.

The third flare was discovered in an area only tens of meters from where he had been harvesting taimo, a type of taro, until the evening of Dec. 5. Despite having been working close to the accident site, Uezu did not see the flare drop.

“What would have happened if the flare had hit people? Is there any guarantee that we and our children can live with a sense of security?” he asked with indignation.

“I want the U.S. military to leave this area immediately.”

Igei Ward residents have been living with the danger even after Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972 following 27 years of U.S. administrative control.

A flare is stuck in a tree in the town of Kin in Okinawa Prefecture on Dec. 6. | THE OKINAWA TIMES
A flare is stuck in a tree in the town of Kin in Okinawa Prefecture on Dec. 6. | THE OKINAWA TIMES

According to the ward, the shooting training conducted on the base has led to 42 accidents, excluding the flare fall, since 1956.

In October 1988, a bullet hit about two meters from a woman, and a separate bullet nearly hit a housing construction worker in the abdomen.

In December 2008, a license plate on a passenger car parked at a house was penetrated by a bullet. Although an investigation by prefectural police confirmed the bullet was the same kind as that being used by the U.S. military, the American side denied a direct link with the exercises conducted by the marines. About a year after the incident, the prefectural police carried out an investigation on the base but could not identify any suspects. Police sent papers to prosecutors on suspicion of an unknown suspect committing a petty offense. The Naha District Court dropped the case, however.

Similar accidents have occurred in the ward since before Okinawa’s reversion to Japan.

In one case, a 3-year-old girl was struck by a stray bullet in the thigh while playing in the garden of her home. In another, a bullet pierced a roof and hit a woman in the thigh.

Ward officials have organized a number of rallies in protest.

This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major newspaper in the prefecture. The original articles were published on Dec. 6 and 7.

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