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Murayama, Ota to Discuss U.S. Bases : Japan: Prime minister to brief Okinawan governor on American plans to reduce military activities on the island as soldiers' rape trial nears.

November 04, 1995|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOKYO — Japanese political maneuvering over U.S. bases in Japan was set to intensify today with a high-profile meeting between Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota, a key critic of the bases.

Ota, who is lobbying for a sharp reduction in the U.S. military presence on his southern island, has pressed his case by refusing to sign documents that would force unwilling landowners to renew leases on key parcels of land needed for U.S. bases.

Anti-base sentiment on Okinawa has been inflamed by the September rape of a 12-year-old girl, allegedly by three U.S. military men. Their trial is set to begin Tuesday.

The U.S. military is negotiating financial compensation for the girl, one of the accused men's lawyers told reporters Friday.

U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry sought to cool Okinawa's anti-base movement and to calm the uproar over the rape with a three-day visit to Tokyo this week, during which he met with Murayama, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and Seishiro Eto, director general of the Japan Defense Agency.

Murayama is expected to brief Ota today on the results of those meetings, including details of what the United States is willing to do to reduce the intrusiveness of the bases into Okinawan life, as well as what the Tokyo government plans to press the Americans to do.

But Ota has already indicated that he is unlikely to be satisfied and will continue to press various demands that Perry rejected.

"It is impossible for me to imagine that the people of Okinawa can be satisfied with the comments by Defense Secretary Perry," Ota told reporters upon arrival in Tokyo on Friday. "So I think we face a very difficult situation."

If Ota remains firm in his refusal to sign the land-lease documents, most observers believe that Murayama will have little choice but to exercise his own power to force renewal of the leases.

That would be an embarrassment for the Socialist prime minister, who opposed the existence of the bases for most of his political career but now supports them.

Most Japanese political chiefs--including the leaders of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, the dominant member of the three-party ruling coalition--strongly favor the U.S.-Japan security alliance. It is unlikely that Murayama could survive in office if he allowed the leases to expire.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Koken Nosaka has indicated that Murayama will exercise his legal authority to renew the leases if necessary.

The importance of today's meeting thus lies largely in how much political trouble Ota will make for Murayama and the ruling coalition, and how much he can achieve toward his goal of a reduced U.S. military presence on Okinawa.

Ota's tough stance has strong support on Okinawa, which is home to 75% of the U.S. military facilities in Japan. U.S. bases occupy about 20% of the island's land.

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In his meetings with Japanese leaders, Perry agreed to the establishment of a "special action committee" to explore and implement ways to scale back the activities of U.S. bases on Okinawa.

The two sides also agreed that there would be no revision of the Status of Forces Agreement providing for the U.S. presence here.

But Ota and his Okinawan prefectural government, according to Japanese media reports, intend to continue seeking major revisions in the Status of Forces Agreement, using the lease issue as leverage.

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