NAHA, Okinawa — The Okinawa anti-base movement may have learned a lesson from the present furor over whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.

An e-mail petition signed by 623 people, most of them Okinawans, was sent to the United Nations asking for weapons inspectors to search U.S. military bases on Okinawa for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The petition voiced suspicions that the United States may be storing such weapons on Okinawa to prepare for war against Iraq, or a possible conflict with North Korea.

On Friday, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman had no comment on the group’s request. U.S. officials have stated in the past that no such weapons are on the island.

When the prefecture was returned to Japanese rule in 1972, Tokyo promised Okinawans the island would be “nuclear free.” And in January 1971, 150 tons of chemical ammunition, including nerve gas, were given a high-profile removal from U.S. bases on Okinawa. Still, freelance writer Ushi Chinen, 36, the protest organizer, said some Okinawans believe weapons of mass destruction remain on U.S. bases there.

“Many people on Okinawa have misgivings toward the U.S. military bases on Okinawa,” she said at a news conference last week. The petition, sent Wednesday, asks the U.N. Security Council to send inspectors to Okinawa to determine whether such weapons are being stored at Okinawa’s U.S. military bases. “Before Okinawa was reverted to Japan it was a publicly known fact that nuclear weapons were stored on U.S. military installations on Okinawa,” the petition states. “The conditions of reversion were to make Okinawa nuclear free.”

Okinawans first officially learned of the chemical weapons there in July 1969, when the Wall Street Journal reported a leakage of lethal gas munitions from a storage facility in Chibana. The Department of Defense quickly ordered all such weapons removed from the island.

Also ordered removed: nuclear weapons. According to the January 2000 edition of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, there was an “enormous and varied nuclear arsenal on Okinawa.”

“The Japanese island of Okinawa hosted 19 different types of nuclear weapons during the period 1954-72,” the article stated. “But at no time were more than about 1,000 warheads deployed there.”

In November 1969, President Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato signed an agreement for Okinawa to revert to Japanese control by May 1972. In 1971, the chemical weapons there were shipped to a facility on Johnson Atoll, between the Hawaiian and the Marshall Islands.

— Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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