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Police Raid on Sect Brings Relief to Fearful Neighbors : Japan: Farmers describe years of anxiety living beside a compound of the secretive Aum Supreme Truth cult.

March 24, 1995|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KAMIKUISHIKI, Japan — Fear still lingers in this once-peaceful village near the foot of Mt. Fuji. But six years of open conflict between the secretive Aum Supreme Truth religious sect and local farmers terrified by its activities is finally ending in victory for the locals.

As police conducted successive raids on sect buildings Wednesday, Thursday and today, discovering huge caches of suspicious chemicals, a mood approaching jubilation remained just below the surface among village residents.

"We were hoping and hoping that the police would act," said Mitsuko Nozawa, 39, a dairy farmer's wife who lives within sight of some of the Supreme Truth buildings. "We feel, 'They finally came!' We were frustrated that even though the Aum followers were always doing terrible things, the government wasn't taking any action."

But the drama--and the fear--hasn't quite ended yet, Nozawa noted.

"Now we feel apprehension and happiness mixed together," she explained. "I'm afraid that if they're in a position from which there's no escape, they might do something unimaginable, for ordinary common sense means nothing to them."

Indeed, said Mayor Katsumi Watanabe, an anonymous warning was telephoned to a government office Thursday, threatening that unless police raids were halted the village headquarters would be bombed and all the people here would be poisoned.

But the threat did not shake the widespread hope that this village will soon be freed of the despised sect center.

"People, including myself, are quite relieved," said Watanabe, 72. "But at the same time we are hoping that the investigation will be handled in a way that eliminates all our fears. We're happy the police have gotten involved. . . . But we don't know whether those people will remain or not. If they remain . . . (and) want revenge, the people of our village will be left just as frightened as ever."

The rural quiet of Kamikuishiki, a sprawling community of small dairy and cattle farms and lake resort hamlets, was still being shattered Thursday by wailing police sirens, the presence of hundreds of riot officers and dozens of police buses parked near the Supreme Truth main building.

Many sect members, some with nowhere to go, were still living in the residences. They needed only to venture outside their compound to see how unwelcome they are.

Black-on-white signs posted at dozens of rural street corners carry blunt messages: "Aum, destroyer of the environment, doesn't fit with Mt. Fuji!" "Aum cars are the only ones causing accidents. This shows the cult's basic nature!" "Get out, Aum, destroyer of the biggest agricultural area in the prefecture!" "Aum, tell the truth! Not a single resident wants you here!"

The sect frightened people here from the time it arrived in 1989.

*

"At first, the Aum people wore hoods, with just their eyes visible, and several hundred people would be going around that way," Nozawa recalled. "They said it was religious training, but I remember I was very frightened. I was afraid they would do something to my children."

Watanabe listed some of the community's main complaints against the sect: night-and-day noise from construction machines; bad odors coming from the group's buildings; close observation by Aum members of people driving by; the photographing of local people by Aum members; the sound of chants booming out over loudspeakers all day; wild driving of cars; accidents; trampling grass on cattle-grazing fields, and trespassing.

Seiichi Takeuchi, 66, a dairy and cattle farmer living near the sect center, was among a small group calling itself the Aum Supreme Truth Countermeasures Committee that began in 1990 to openly battle the sect. "Actually, we were all afraid," he said. "No one wanted to give their names. No one wanted to show their faces. But you can't have a movement that way."

Takeuchi enjoyed sweet vindication Thursday. He sat on a straw-mat floor in his modest home and held court for an endless stream of Japanese journalists. His phone rang off the hook as more reporters tried to reach him. "I wouldn't be surprised whatever comes out," he declared into the phone. "I wouldn't be surprised if bodies are found. That's the kind of cult they are!"

After the call, he repeated his concern: "I'm not surprised . . . . The fact that it's that kind of cult is something that the people here understand very deeply."

At one point, when asked about the 50 followers found by police in dazed or unconscious condition in Wednesday's initial raid, Takeuchi seemed on the edge of tears. "My reaction was, 'Of course,' " he said. "There had been people who escaped. I figured there were people in those buildings who were victims."

Takeuchi also noted that even though events seem to be moving toward the long-hoped-for shutting down of the sect compounds, this will not necessarily be an easy process to see through to completion. "When believers enter Aum, they give up all their property, so they have nothing," he said. "If Aum disappears, they will have nowhere to go."

Megumi Shimizu of The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.

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