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Camp Kuwae return marred by danger

Date Posted: 2005-02-25

The return of Camp Kuwae to Japanese control began in 2003, but is running well behind schedule.
Better known now as Camp Lester, the longtime American base is being returned under an agreement made years ago. The first turnback was last Fall, months after the target date.

Chatan Town is recipient of the land, and has encountered numerous problems getting the old base approved for civilian use. First there were pollution problems discovered on parts of the land. Those required the Naha Self Defense Force to inspect the area. Chemical pollutants were found, and decontamination accomplished before the first area was released.

The latest obstacle is discovery of unexploded ordnance in the areas which were to have been turned over months ago. An unexploded bomb was discovered during a magnetic probe a few days ago, and explosives experts found thousands of rounds of unexploded bullets that appear to date back to World War II. A rocket bomb was also discovered.

Officials say this is the 32nd time the Japanese Army Self Defense Forces have been called out to Camp Kuwae. The bullets were inside 30 boxes, as were machine guns, carbines and handguns. A total of about 10,000 bullets were identified. The rockets were in cases with World War II era markings.

Choichi Hentona, Chatan’s mayor, says “What! Again? Our project is being delayed and is costing us a lot. I wish the Americans would do more research before they return the land.”

“We never know what’s coming next,” he added.

The chemical pollution wasn’t discovered until well after the 2003 land return to the Japanese government. Chatan Landowner Association Chairman Tomoaki Kiuna says “the rules state they should investigate the land, and see if there are any bombs left or not. Otherwise, we are very worried.

The magnetic probe has only explored about one-quarter of the land being returned. Disposal experts say “this area was a landing spot for the American military during the war, and then the Americans kept it as an ammunition storage area for a while.”

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