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Americans smile, politicians lament end to lockdown

Date Posted: 2008-03-05

Americans are happy, laughing and smiling as they walk the streets of Okinawa following a nearly two-week lockdown, a restriction to the military bases, but Okinawa mayors and political leaders are not sharing the euphoria.
Lieutenant General Richard C. Zilmer, the Okinawa Area Coordinator and senior U.S. military commander on Okinawa, Monday night lifted the restrictions he had imposed February 20th, freeing the troops, civilians and family members to venture into the local communities again. Zilmer had instituted the lockdown, calling it a Period of Reflection, in the aftermath of an alleged rape incident and several other crimes charged to servicemen by Okinawa police.
The end to the lockdown wasn’t total, however, as the three-star general imposed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on military personnel, and imposed a ban on military personnel drinking alcohol off base. There are no limitations, restrictions or curfew for civilians or family members. “The curfew, coupled with ongoing cooperative initiatives with our Japanese hosts at the national and local levels, will offer the best atmosphere for our service members, family members and civilian employees,” Zilmer said, “while reducing the possibility and risk of misconduct.”
Chatan Town’s mayor ridiculed the announcement, saying “The lockdown was just a performance by the American military.” Masaharu Noguni said the Americans “don’t think it’s real, and only was showing format. The military is very much slacking.” Noguni complained “they need to give strict education to lower ranking young service men,” teaching them “what is a human being? What is moral? They have to learn. Without learning anything,” he says, “they must not end the lockout.”
Okinawa City’s Assembly members aren’t happy with the American decision to drop the restrictions. Pointing to an incident by a Kadena airman who was drunk and exited the base during the lockout and broke into a local business, Assembly member Katsushi Yonamine said “we’re wondering how that even with a lockout the scandal happened. What does the military think about it, and how are they going to prevent incidents in the future?” he asked. The political leader predicts “their lockout system doesn’t work, and even without it working they made it end the easy way. That’s nonsense.”
“It’s unbelievable,” said Hironao Yamashiro, the Okinawa Peace Campaign Center Director. “If the scandals happen again, what will the military do? How will they take responsibility?” The Okinawa Peace Campaign Center says they must continue with plans for meetings and rallies, and protest against the military “to raise the public people’s voice.”
Six citizens groups say they’ll continue with plans for a march 23rd rally protesting the alleged rape of a 14-year-old schoolgirl by an American Marine. Japanese police and prosecutors have already dropped all charges against the American involved in that case, staff sergeant Tyrone Hadnott, 38, saying it was not in the girl’s best interests to pursue it further.
Toshinobu Nakazato, speaker of the Okinawa Prefecture Assembly, is being asked to lead the rally, but the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito say they’re not sure if they’ll lend their support. Citizens groups say they’ll stage the protest in Chatan, where the alleged rape occurred. The groups are demanding the U.S. pay damages to the young victim, change policies and procedures for service members to prevent future incidents, and are seeking a revision to the U.S. ~ Japan Status of Forces Agreement.
The chairman of the Prefecture Women’s Union is angry the lockdown was ended so quickly. “This action should continue at least three months, not only too weeks,” says Haruko Kowatari. “There is no effect at all, and just as we thought, the Americans don’t regret anything at all.” Kowatari points out nothing has changed in the 60 years since World War II ended, and says “We must appeal to the military our feelings by having the protest rally.” The Union leader is also calling for “trying to get military people away from Okinawa.”
Business leaders in communities surrounding the U.S. bases were expressing sighs of relief at having Americans back in their establishments. Hundreds of GI’s, civilians and family members quickly found their way back into stores, bars and restaurants on Gate 2 Street near Kadena Air Base, and at Mihama’s American Village and in downtown Naha.
The ban on consuming alcohol off base applies only to service members, Lt. Gen. Zilmer said, noting there are no alcohol restrictions for civilians or family members. He said both the curfew and the alcohol restrictions will be “periodically reassessed by senior service leaders.” There are no alcohol consumption restrictions aboard any U.S. base or installation, or in off-base residences occupied by SOFA-status personnel.
“As we begin to venture outside our gates, I remind all of you that we are guests in Japan and must represent our Nation with the utmost pride, professionalism and respect for our hosts,” Zilmer said. “I know the overwhelming majority of you are great ambassadors of America and will strive to reinvigorate the gret relationship we have with our Japanese neighbors.”
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda says he’s urging the military to step up campaigns to curb off base incidents. Reacting to the latest incident involving the young airman breaking into an Okinawa Contractors Association office, Fukuda said “I will tell the U.S. military we would like more meticulous measures to be taken.”
The U.S. Consul General in Naha, meanwhile, says the U.S. is ready to open discussions on who has jurisdiction over American service personnel who commit crimes off base. Kevin Maher says there could be confusion of who has authority when joint police patrols are operating. Japan has proposed the joint patrols as a means of reducing potential incidents involving GI’s.
“If there are points that are not clear over which side would make arrests,” Maher said, “I think it can be cleared up in talks by the Joint Committee.” Maher appeared to think the plans were workable, as he spoke during an interview, but Okinawa Prefecture Police aren’t so sure it is so simple.
Prefecture Police question the clarity of the regulations, which under the Status of Forces Agreement, strictly limit powers of Japanese police in cases involving American military personnel off base.

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