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U.S. soldier at marksmans practiceOkinawa

Okinawans writhe under U.S. presence

Protests of alleged rape cap years of resentment

September 28, 1995
Web posted at: 12:20 p.m. EDT (1620 GMT)

May Lee

From Correspondent May Lee

OKINAWA, Japan (CNN) -- Forty thousand U.S. troops are positioned throughout Japan, and most of them -- 75 percent - - are stationed on the small island of Okinawa, south of the mainland.

flags at the base

Many of the island's residents have been protesting for years against the huge military presence. Now, with the rape of a 12-year-old girl, allegedly by three U.S. servicemen, Okinawans feel their struggle is finally drawing attention.

The American presence on the island dates back to the end of World War II. The Japanese government now bears 70 percent of the costs -- some $5 billion -- for the American military men and women who help protect their nation.

Col. Wagner

Military officials on Okinawa say it's a matter of obligation. "The necessity is security of the Pacific Rim," said Col. Stuart Wagner of Marine public affairs. "We have security treaties with our allies, an 'obligated to preserve' treaty, and we're here because of that."

The island's people say that treaty needs to change. They argue that their island home has been sacrificed by the U.S. and Japanese governments to maintain the security alliance. The alleged rape, they say, is just the latest in a series of crimes and accidents they blame on U.S. military personnel, but they hope it will be the one that opens the door to change.

"This case is opening (the Japanese government's) mind," said local activist Yoichi Iha. "So we want to talk with them."

Caroline Francis

American missionary Caroline Francis supports the effort to free Okinawa from the U.S. military. She said she had known about the U.S. bases before moving to the island, but hadn't realized the enormous impact they have on the lives of its inhabitants (187K AIFF sound or 187K WAV sound).

Okinawan Masao Arime experiences the effects first hand. One of 30,000 locals who still own a plot of land within the U.S. bases, he's allowed to access his property only once a year. However, he refuses to lease it to the military.

"Seeing the accidents and incidents over the past 50 years involving the military, I believe the only answer is the removal of the bases," Arime said. "Since this is what I believe, I refuse to lease any land for use on the bases."

on the firing range

Some 2,900 owners lease land inside the base to the military, but many are saying they will not renew their contracts when they expire. Gov. Masahide Ota has said he will not support renewal of the leases. He also demanded changes in the U.S.- Japan agreement governing the military forces. The two countries are reluctant to revise the agreement. Instead, they signed an accord this week under which Japan will increase its contributions to the support the troops.

A local saying declares, "Okinawa is an island that exists within a U.S. military base." Protesters are hoping that their long uphill battle to change that eventually will yield results.

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