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A Chronology of News Events

February-March 1996


FEBRUARY

1st - A 14-man delegation from the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly arrived in Washington on Tuesday. They will seek support in the U.S. for the prefecture's plan to close all bases by 2015. In commenting on these proposals, U.S. State Department spokesman, Glyn Davies, reitterated the U.S. position of maintaining 47,000 troops in Japan. "Japan remains committed to a U.S. presence in their country, and we remain committed to working with them," he said.

2nd - The delegation from Okinawa held talks in Washington on Wednesday with Craig Thomas, chairman of the East Asia and Pacific Foreign Relations Subcommittee, aimed at reducing the military base presence in the prefecture. Thomas defended the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty as being of benefit to both countries.

2nd - A group of Okinawan women set off on a protest tour of the United States on Saturday to draw attention to violent sexual crimes committed by U.S. servicemen on the island.

2nd - U.S. Defence Secretary William Perry will come to Japan a day or so prior to President Clinton's scheduled arrival on 16th April.

3rd - A U.S. House panel intends to hold hearings on the issue of military bases in Okinawa, Okinawa Prefectural Assembly members in Washington said Thursday. Douglas Bereuter, Chairman of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, agreed that Okinawa currently bears a heavy burden for U.S. military bases, but emphasised that the issue of moving American bases off the island is basically a problem for Japan's central government and Okinawa to work out.

3rd - Japan is expected to ask the U.S. military to move artillery drills currently held on Okinawa to the Japanese mainland, government sources revealed Friday. There are five sites up for consideration. The government admits, however, that it will have to obtain the understanding of the local residents of any potential area before proceeding with a reorganisation. The U.S. military command in Okinawa, having already supported such a move as a means of addressing the concerns of the Okinawan people, issued a press release on Thursday saying that "U.S. forces are fully prepared to move all artillery firing to other sites off Okinawa."

4th - A 14-man delegation of Okinawa Prefectural Assembly members in the U.S. was told by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Hubbard on Friday, that it would be unthinkable to move the U.S. Marine Corps forces stationed on Okinawa to Hawaii. Their presence on Okinawa is, said Hubbard, significant for security arrangements between the U.S. and Japan. Hubbard suggested that certain facilities could be moved to other parts of Japan, but that the Japanese Government would have to pay a significant amount of the relocation costs.

5th - In working-level talks on the Okinawa base issue between the governments of Japan and the U.S., it has been decided that the joint statement issued by Prime Minister Hashimoto and U.S. President Clinton in April will unlikely include any mention of the number of troops stationed in Japan (currently 47,000). The omission of any specific figure is in an attempt to keep the security set-up intact at a time when there are growing demands in Okinawa for a reduction in the military presence. The Japanese Government intends to formally ask President Clinton to omit any reference in the joint statement to specific numbers of forces. Clinton will likely agree.

6th - Okinawa Governor Ota stated Monday that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty should not be given priority over civil law in the case currently filed against him by the national government. The national government is clearly set upon preventing the land lease trial from becoming too protracted, whereas Ota would like to use the opportunity to challenge the legality of the Japan-U.S. treaty in his defence.

8th - U.S. National Security Advisor Anthony Lake told Japanese Foreign Minister Ikeda Wednesday, that he would like to see talks on bases in Okinawa accelerated before President Clinton's visit in April. The Japan-U.S. committee currently discussing the issue was due to publish its final proposals in the autumn.

9th - U.S. Defence Secretary Perry told a delegation of Japanese ruling coalition officials on Wednesday, that he would like to see that the problem of bases on Okinawa is resolved when President Clinton visits Japan in April. In a meeting at the Pentagon, Perry responded to the question of bases being relocated to mainland Japan by saying that the U.S. presence in Okinawa was effective in ensuring both local and regional security.

10th - Prime Minister Hashimoto will meet U.S. President Clinton in Santa Monica, California, during a visit to the U.S. from 23rd to 25th February. The meeting will provide an opportunity to make arrangements for the official Japan-U.S. summit in Japan in mid-April. This will be Hashimoto's first overseas trip since taking office. His intent is to emphasise the importance of the Japan-U.S. security alliance and to establish a personal relationship with the American President. The issue of bases in Okinawa will be amongst the issues for discussion.

10th - Government officials demanded in court Friday that Okinawa Governor Ota be ordered to sign documents to continue the forced leasing of land to the U.S. military for the sake of public interest and bilateral ties. Defence lawyers, however, asked the court to look at Ota's objections by fully examining the case and considering the legality of forced land expropriations. In this, the second hearing at the Naha Branch of the Fukuoka High Court, prosecutors asked for as speedy a procedure as possible. They asserted that Ota, as Governor acting on behalf of the government, was obliged to sign the documents. Defence lawyers will attempt to delay the trial by bringing forth witness after witness.

11th - The U.S. has started to examine specific options, including the situation of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, in addressing the issue of consolidating and reducing U.S. bases in Okinawa, a senior U.S. administration official said Friday. The official said that Washington and Tokyo are working on "conrete ideas" to present during President Clinton's visit to Japan in April. He added, "We are carefully examining the role of Futenma to see whether it remains necessary, whether there is some way of curtailing activities at Futenma to reduce the burden on Okinawa." But, he said, "I wouldn't want to predict that we'll be able to close Futenma."

11th - Thirteen Okinawan women ended a three-day campaign in Washington Friday in which they urged U.S. Congresswomen and supporters to call for reductions in the number of bases on Okinawa. "Aside from the high-profile rape incident last September of a schoolgirl, there are many hidden cases of rape by U.S. military servicemen," Suzuyo Takazato told a press conference.

13th - 800 people rallied in Tokyo Monday in support of Okinawa Governor Ota's refusal to sign land lease documents.

13th - Defence Agency Chief Hideo Usui pledged Sunday that Tokyo and Washington will try to come up with proposals for reducing the military base presence in Okinawa prior to Bill Clinton's visit to Japan in April. Usui made the comment whilst visiting Okinawa Governor Ota. Ota, in turn, urged the government to support the prefecture's plan for the return of all land that U.S. bases occupy on the island.

15th - The U.S. is apparently offering to return the biggest U.S. military training area in Japan, located in the northern part of Okinawa stretching over Kunigamison and Higashison, in its efforts to consolidate and reduce military bases in Okinawa, it was learned (by the Yomiuri Shimbun) Tuesday. The 7,500 hectare site is used for training only infrequently. Some Okinawan landowners are already reluctant about this plan as it would be difficult to find ways of using the land once returned.

16th - The Chinese Foreign Ministry reitterated its claims that the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in Chinese) are historically a part of Chinese territory. The islands, part of Okinawa Prefecture, have been the subject of sovereignty squabbles between Japan, China, and Taiwan, ever since explorations revealed the possibility of rich oil deposits. In 1978, Japan and China agreed to put their conflicting sovereignty claims to one side and to jointly develop any potential resources. Japan plans to ratify the international Convention on the Law of the Sea during the current Diet session, to which signatories are obliged to respect an exclusive 321 kilometre economic zone off a nation's coast.

16th - A Japan-U.S. agreement to reduce aircraft noise at U.S. bases in Okinawa will call for the same flight restrictions as those at Atsugi airbase in Kanagawa Prefecture even though Okinawans want tighter restrictions. According to an outline of the accord, the agreement will ban flights from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and restrict touch-and-go training exercises and the use of afterburners in training flights to a minimum since they produce a lot of noise. Okinawa Prefecture had been demanding a 12-hour ban on flights and a number of other stronger provisions on the grounds that the number of times when aircraft noise exceeds a certain level in the early mornings and at night in Okinawa is more than five times the number in areas around the Yokota and Atsugi airbases.

17th - The U.S. Marine Corps conducted a troop march on a national road in Okinawa Prefecture on Friday despite local citizens' demands that the U.S. military refrain from using civilian land for drills.

17th - The International Association of Democratic Lawyers said Friday that the U.S. military presence in Okinawa might infringe on the human rights of the islanders. A delegation of the IADL, a non-government lawyers' organisation, inspected U.S. military bases on Okinawa for three days. It plans to submit a report on the issue of Okinawa to its convention to be held in Capetown, South Africa, next month. IADL officials stated that they will likely argue against the bases on the grounds that they may infringe on human rights and rights of self-determination. Their report also said that the bases may violate international laws as well as Japan's Constitution which renounces the use of force to settle international disputes.

19th - The U.S. Government has offered to transfer part of the air wing of a U.S. Marine Corps division stationed at the Futenma base in Okinawa to Iwakuni Air Base, Yamaguchi Prefecture. The local municipal government in Iwakuni is, however, totally opposed to the idea. The return of Futenma base has been one of the key demands of the Okinawa Prefectural Government and Japan-U.S. officials are anxious to resolve the issue before President Clinton's visit in April. Futenma base cover about 480 hectares and is encircled by the southern Okinawa city of Ginowan. An aircraft wing belonging to the 3rd Marine Division that forms a major part of the military presence on the island is stationed at the base. The base is equipped with 70 helicopters, two C-12 transport aircraft and 12 KC-130 air tankers. There are two main headaches connected with the potential move. The first, is that Okinawa is regarded as the best place for joint exercises between the helicopter squadrons and other marines. The second, is that there may be problems in responding to an emergency on the Korean Peninsula if U.S. marines were moved to Iwakuni from Okinawa.

19th - Yukio Hatoyama, Secretary General of the New Party Sakigake (Pioneers), said Saturday that it was vital that substantial progress be made in negotiations over the return of Futenma Air Base to Okinawa Prefecture.

21st - A poll conducted by the University of the Ryukyus found that 70% of the (Okinawan) respondents support Governor Ota's refusal to sign land lease documents. The same percentage again support the view that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty should be repealed or revised. The university contacted 1,000 people at random from a list of 810,000 eligible voters on the island. 570 of the 1,000 agreed to be interviewed for the survey.

23rd - Prime Minister Hashimoto will leave Friday night for Santa Monica, California, to meet with U.S. President Clinton. At his first meeting with Bill Clinton, Hashimoto is expected to discuss bilateral trade disputes, the political situation on the Korean Peninsula, tensions between China and Taiwan, and U.S. military bases in Okinawa. The meeting is due to last for about an hour.

24th - The trial over Okinawa Governor Ota's refusal to sign documents to extend the forced leasing of land to the U.S. military will not deal with the alleged illegality of the Prime Minister's authorisation of the forced leases last May, a high court said Friday. The Okinawa Prefectural Government has been strongly opposed to remarks by Presiding Judge Ichiro Otsuka of the Naha Branch of the Fukuoka High Court that "the authorisation of the leases will not be a subject for the trial." The remarks came at the third hearing when the prefecture asked why the court limited its questions to Shigemichi Saeki, head of the Naha Regional Defence Facilities Administration Bureau.

24th - A special Japan-U.S. panel on U.S. military bases in Okinawa will hold a third round of working-level talks in Washington next Tuesday on easing the security burden of the prefecture, the Foreign Ministry said Friday. The meeting pairs officials from the Japanese Foreign Ministry and Defence Agency with their U.S. counterparts.

24th - Prime Minister Hashimoto departs for Santa Monica, California. Before leaving, Hashimoto stated in reference to the issue of military bases, "To solve problems in Okinawa Prefecture, I want to convey our basic policy (to Clinton) that we want the U.S. Government to act as flexibly as possible."

25th - Prime Minister Hashimoto and U.S. President Clinton agreed Friday to give top priority to resolving issues related to U.S. military bases in Okinawa, said government officials. The two agreed to proceed with reduction and consolidation negotiations with a view to achieving tangible results before Clinton's visit to Japan in April. During the meeting, the specific issue of the return of Futenma Air Base was discussed.

27th - Washington said if it scales down bases on Okinawa, Tokyo should let the U.S. military use Japanese Self-Defence Force (JSDF) bases if a military crisis erupts in the region, sources said Monday. The Japanese Government said it would study the proposal for the sharing of JSDF facilities, such as runways and communications equipment. The proposal will, however, likely trigger public controversy because such an arrangement with the U.S. military could be seen as infringing on Japan's war-renouncing Constitution, sources said. Under U.S.-Japan security cooperation guidelines established in 1978, SDF bases can be used by U.S. forces, but only when Japan is attacked, or for joint Japan-U.S. military drills.

29th - Prime Minister Hashimoto on Wednesday urged the new commander-in-chief of of the U.S. Pacific Command to cooperate in pushing Japan-U.S. efforts to reduce the American military presence in Okinawa. Admiral Joseph Prueher paid a visit to Prime Minister Hashimoto in Tokyo and resolved to make "good faith" efforts towards such a goal.

29th - On Tuesday a joint Japan-U.S. action committee began discussions on the consolidation of Futenma Air Base and other U.S. bases in Okinawa. There was an informal exchange of opinions which, said a Japanese official, could be used "as a basis for beginning full-fledged discussions." One of the highest priorities was placed on the consolidation of Futenma Air Base and much of the informal talks focused on this issue. The two sides have yet to come up with concrete proposals, but are scheduled to meet again in early March. It is hoped that considerable headway can be reached prior to President Bill Clinton's visit to Japan in April.


MARCH

6th - Okinawans await the sentencing of the three U.S. servicemen accused of raping a local schoolgirl, due to take place on Thursday. Prosecutors have demanded 10-year prison sentences for each. The decision will be rendered by a three-judge court as Japan does not have a jury system.

7th - In the verdict handed down at the Naha District Court today, Presiding Judge Shinei Nagamine sentenced U.S. Navy seaman Marcus Gill, of Woodville, Texas, to seven years imprisonment. Gill was acknowledged to be the ringleader. His accomplices, U.S. Marine Kendrick Ledet, of Waycross, Georgia, got six-and-a-half years and U.S. Marine Rodrico Harp, of Griffin, Georgia, got seven years. In sentencing Judge Nagamine described the rape incident as "a premeditated crime." He said that "there is no room for extenuating circumstances. It was a dreadful and wanton crime that disregarded the victim's dignity as a human being. there was no fault on the victim's part and the mental agony and physical suffering that she experienced were tremendous."

8th - Lawyers for the families of the three U.S. servicemen sentenced to prison terms for the abduction and rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl said Thursday they plan to seek an immediate appeal against the punishments. U.S. lawyers Michael Griffith (who represents Ledet and Harp) and Eric Ross (who represents Gill) expressed disappointment with the performance of the Japanese defence team and said that the constitutional and legal rights of the defendants were violated throughout the trial. Griffith took issue with the Japanese system of detaining suspects for up to 23 days for questioning by police without a lawyer present. "We intend to show the world that this is a system that must be changed," he said. On Thursday he called Japan's conviction rate of 99.99% "a joke to the civilised world." "Are the Japanese police the most intelligent police in the world that they only arrest the guilty people?" he asked.

8th - A joint Japan-U.S. task force will hold its second meeting in Washington on March 21st and 22nd on what bases can be consolidated, reduced in size or closed on Okinawa, ruling coalition members said Thursday. The committee, set up in November, is expected to hold its third meeting just prior to President Clinton's visit to Japan in mid-April.

9th - An international symposium was held Friday in Naha by opponents of U.S. bases in Okinawa. Participants included lawyers from the U.S. and Philippines involved in peace and anti-nuclear weapons movements, as well as local Okinawan landowners.

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