Landowner Sues To Evict U.S. Military

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TOKYO: In the latest dispute between Okinawans and the U.S. military, a landowner has filed suit to evict the military from his plot of land. Shoichi Chibana's lease with the military expired Sunday and he wants to return to his home. "I want to go back on my land," Chibana said. "In the end, we will win." The Japanese government is not letting Chibana return, citing the U.S.-Japanese security relationship. Chibana led thousands of protesters this weekend outside his land at a U.S. Navy communications center, causing a potential embarrassment for Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Hashimoto wants to quiet anti-U.S. military sentiment before President Clinton visits Japan later this month. "If Okinawans start demonstrating when Clinton is here like they did in October, this could backfire in Hashimoto's face," TIME correspondent Irene M. Kunii says. More than one million people demonstrated in October in response to the brutal rape of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. servicement. Okinawans have historically harbored deep resentments toward the U.S. military for their bloody invasion of the island in World War II and the ensuing occupation. The invasion killed at least 80,000 Japanese troops and 130,000 civilians on Okinawa. After the war, the United States occupied Okinawa until 1972 - 20 years after leaving the rest of Japan. Kunii says rapes were common during the occupation, but were covered up by the military. "This has been a source of contention on Okinawa since before 1972," Kunii says. "The rest of Japan has now woken up to the problem of occupation, and that has Hashimoto worried." Of the 32,000 landowners with plots used by the U.S. military on Okinawa, 2,937 are refusing to renew their leases, affecting about 10 percent of the land. The landowners have the support of local authorities, including Okinawa's governor, Masahide Ota. Ota claims the bases, which monopolize the best land on the island, have kept Okinawa the poorest region in Japan. Hashimoto has signed papers forcing Chibana to renew his lease, but until the renewal process is completed -- a task that could take weeks -- the U.S. military is technically trespassing on Chibana's land.