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Okinawa police blasted for searching home of researcher exposing US military waste issues

U.S. military waste is seen lined up on the road in front of a gate to the U.S. military's Camp Gonsalves, also known as the Northern Training Center, on April 7, 2021. (Photo from Akino Miyagi's blog)

NAHA -- A home search conducted earlier this month on a butterfly researcher suspected of forcible obstruction of business by placing U.S. military waste in front of a training area gate in northern Okinawa Prefecture has prompted criticism of the Okinawa Prefectural Police from the researcher and multiple civic groups.

    On June 4, Okinawa Prefectural Police searched the home of Akino Miyagi, 42, who has been exposing the presence of massive amounts of military waste left by U.S. forces in part of a former training area in northern Okinawa Prefecture that U.S. troops returned to Japan. It is believed the charges are based on Miyagi placing some of the waste she found in front of a training center gate.

    Miyagi said, however, "Even though I reported this waste's existence to prefectural police, they didn't come to recover it. Then they searched my home, when I'm the one who protested their failure to take back the waste. Doesn't this constitute excessive investigation?"

    According to Miyagi, the prefectural police's security department searched her home in the northern Okinawa village of Higashi for about an hour and a half on June 4. They confiscated items including her computer, video camera and cell phone.

    Blank ammunition that Akino Miyagi found in the portion of the U.S. military's Camp Gonsalves, also known as the Northern Training Center, returned to Japan are seen on April 16, 2019. Miyagi reported them to Okinawa Prefectural Police's Nago Police Station, and requested that police recover them. (Mainichi/Tamami Kawakami)

    Miyagi said that police told her their actions were due to suspicions that she had placed U.S. military waste on the road to a gate into Camp Gonsalves, also known as the Northern Training Center, and thereby hindered U.S. military vehicles' passage, which constituted forcible obstruction of business.

    The waste Miyagi allegedly put on the road before the gate included broken bottles and bags from field rations believed to have been used by U.S. military troops prior to part of the training area's return to Japan. The Northern Training Center is in a woodland region of northern Okinawa Island, and some 4,000 of its around 7,500 hectares were returned to Japan in December 2016.

    Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the U.S. military is not responsible for returning land to its former state before giving it back to Japan. The Japanese Defense Ministry is said to have spent a year after its return removing waste, but Miyagi says that when she entered the training area's returned section, she not only found unused and unexploded blank ammunition, but also metallic parts containing radioactive substances.

    Miyagi says that initially prefectural police would recover bullets and ammunition she found in the returned area and reported. But this stopped around October 2019. It was then that Miyagi, in a sign of protest against the U.S. military and the Japanese government, began frequently placing military waste in bags in front of a gate to the Northern Training Center. On April 7, she took waste she found out of a bag and placed it directly on the road to the gate.

    U.S. military waste that Akino Miyagi placed on a road to a gate into the U.S. military's Camp Gonsalves, also known as the Northern Training Center, is seen on April 7, 2021. (Photo from Akino Miyagi's blog)

    Four civic organizations, including the Okinawa Heiwa Shimin Renrakukai, released a statement on June 10 saying that "the U.S. military has abandoned its responsibility to return the land to its former state, and the Japanese government has never confronted the issue of military waste head on."

    It went on to say: "What should be investigated is not Ms. Miyagi's home, but the part of the former training center that was returned (to Japan)." It also demands a halt to the ongoing investigation into Miyagi and that all her belongings be returned. Although prefectural police have acknowledged that they are investigating her on the suspicion that business was obstructed by trash scattered in front of a Northern Training Center gate in April, it will "refrain from answering questions relating to the suspect."

    The Japanese government submitted a proposal to UNESCO to register as natural world heritage sites Amami-Oshima Island and Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture as well as the northern part of the main Okinawa Island -- including the Yambaru forests, where a portion of the Northern Training Area was returned to Japan -- and Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture. It is almost certain that UNESCO's World Heritage Committee will approve the proposal as Japan's fifth natural World Heritage site at its scheduled July meeting.

    (Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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