From Tokyo Bureau Chief John Lewis
October 3, 1995
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TOKYO (CNN) -- Emotions are still running high in Okinawa after the rape of a 12-year-old elementary school girl, allegedly by three U.S. servicemen.
Protests against the massive American military presence on the island have rung through the streets. One resident compared the American troops to "an occupation force (translation - 68K AIFF sound or 68K WAV sound)." Another charged, "The U.S. military has existed in Okinawa for 50 years and its violence has infringed upon the human rights of women and children here."
Against this backdrop, a ranking official of Japan's Defense Agency, Noburu Noshuyama, traveled to Okinawa this past weekend. He had hoped to calm fears and, more important, to enlist the help of Okinawa's governor, Masahide Ota, an outspoken critic of the U.S. military presence on the island. Noshuyama failed to do either. In fact, Ota refused to even see the envoy from Tokyo.
But Japan's central government is not about to give up or give in. "We'll keep up our efforts to persuade the Okinawa governor," said Japanese Defense Minister Seishiro Eto.
The conflict runs far deeper than the alleged actions of U.S. servicemen. Many Okinawa citizens have long felt their prefecture has to shoulder the brunt of the continued U.S. military presence in the nation. Moreover, they believe Okinawa has been ignored by the central government in Tokyo for many years, both economically and socially.
Tokyo and Washington are looking for a way to defuse the issues. For the second time in the past week, Japan's foreign minister, Yohei Kono, met Tuesday with the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Walter Mondale. Kono emphasized the importance of calming public sentiment over the rape case and working to scale back U.S. operations in Okinawa. Mondale reportedly said the United States would do all it could to cooperate and to find a solution to the growing problem.
The rape case may well have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. But when emotions cool and justice is done, it may become clear that the solution to the Okinawan problem lies more in the government ministries and its parliament than in Washington.
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