Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 25, 2007

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — An anti-base activist claims government-sponsored divers off Camp Schwab tried to kill him Saturday while he was protesting an environmental survey of a new Marine Corps air station planned for Camp Schwab.

The divers, meanwhile, claim it was the protester who was causing problems as they were inspecting underwater sonar equipment.

The incident took place in Oura Bay about noon Saturday as three contract divers were repairing sonar devices damaged by Typhoon Man-yi.

The environmental survey is being conducted in preparation for the eventual move of Marine air operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new facility on the Henoko peninsula at Camp Schwab. The two runways are to extend into Oura Bay.

Natsume Taira, leader of the Peace Liaison Network, said he was attempting to disrupt the government divers’ work by hanging onto part of an underwater platform where the sonar devices were installed. He and other protesters learned how to dive so they could confront the divers, he said.

“Two divers were on top of me, holding me from behind, and shut off the oxygen valve,” Taira said Monday. He said he was about 10 feet underwater at the time.

“All of a sudden I found it hard to breathe,” he said, adding that he found that odd. “We carry a tank with maximum air capacity so that we can stay in water for a long time. But this was after only 10 minutes in the water.”

Taira said when he surfaced, he found the tank still had plenty of air.

“Then I was shown a video taken by another protester with an underwater camera,” he said. “You can see someone turning off the valve of my tank.

“I am consulting this with my lawyers, thinking of filing a criminal charge. Their act is beyond assault. It is an attempted murder.”

His group also plans to file a protest with the Defense Facilities Administration Agency’s bureau in Naha, he said.

The DFAA has denied anyone attempted to harm Taira.

“There was no such act,” a DFAA spokesman said Monday. “The divers, however, asked the protester not to disrupt their work. We have reported it to the coast guard, who we understand are investigating the matter.”

Moving Marine air operations to northeast Okinawa is an integral part of a bilateral plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan. The two governments agreed in 1996 to close MCAS Futenma within 10 years after a suitable replacement was found elsewhere on Okinawa.

Anti-base demonstrators using canoes and other small craft successfully interfered with a planned air station to be built two miles offshore in the Henoko area. The Camp Schwab plan was adopted in May 2006.

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