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Armed Military Police off base startles tourists

Date Posted: 2003-06-07

A Kadena military policeman carrying an M16 rifle appeared on a parking lot of the Yara "Road Station" in Kadena Town, Sunday, prompting some tourists who were visiting the facility to wonder whether the gun was loaded, and whether it was a common practice of the U.S. Military to carry guns in civilian areas.

The MP reportedly shot videos of a popular sightseeing hill located right outside the fence Kadena Air Base fence. When asked by the prefectural police, the military policeman answered that the "Military police is being vigilant for security reasons on the orders of the base commander."

The SOFA requires the U.S. side to notify the Japanese in advance when armed service members go off-base, but according to Japanese officials, no such notification had been given.

Akemi Kodama, 35, a housewife from Kanagawa Prefecture who was visiting Okinawa for sightseeing, said, "It doesn't make sense to me that an armed MP in full gear enters a public facility. It's like they are telling tourists that Okinawa is a dangerous place."

Following the incident, Okinawa Prefecture Government Military Base Affairs Office sent a letter to the Kadena Air Base asking for details surrounding the event. "The U.S. Military should be careful not to cause anxiety among local residents and other civilian people," an officer at the bureau said.

Kadena Town Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi said that carrying a firearm in public is a violation of the Japanese law. "Unlike in the U.S., carrying an arm in public is a violation of the Swords and Firearms Control Law in Japan. I will verbally warn Kadena Air Base officials of this after confirming the pertinent facts," Miyagi said.

The "Road Station Kadena" opened on Apr. 26 as one of the revitalization projects of base-hosting municipalities. It sells local products and is used as a venue for peace education. It has an observation deck that commands a full view of Kadena Air Base.

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