November 22, 1995
Web posted at: 6:30 a.m. EST (1130 GMT)
From Correspondent May Lee
TOKYO (CNN) -- Senior foreign affairs and defense officials from Japan and the United States are beginning to try to smooth over relations strained by the rape of a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa, allegedly at the hands of three American servicemen. But some Okinawan landowners are refusing to extend the leases on some U.S. military bases.
One-fifth of the island is taken up by U.S. facilities. Of the nearly 3,000 landowners whose leases are due to expire in the next two years, 35 owners are refusing to renew.
Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said he will take legal action to force resistant property owners on Okinawa to renew the leases--a move that's likely to cause more waves on Okinawa.
Okinawans were outraged by the prime minister's decision. "If the Japanese government signs the leases, the Okinawa government will continue demanding that the reconfiguration and reduction of bases in Okinawa is a must," said Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota. (120K AIFF sound or 120K WAV sound)
Defense expert Masashi Nishihara said the Japanese government could ease some of the friction in Okinawa if it did more to educate and inform. "The prime minister has never made a clear statement to lead the public, stressing the importance of Japan's security relations. I think that could have been done. It's more the Japanese government that has to do harder work than American government, in that sense." (83K AIFF sound or 83K WAV sound)
Vice President Al Gore and Murayama agreed Sunday to set up the joint panel to thrash out a blueprint for reducing U.S. bases in Okinawa, 1,000 miles south of Tokyo.
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