Residents: Stray bullet kills Camp Hansen land lease
April 3, 2009
CAMP FOSTER — Whether it’s a stray bullet or money, Kin residents do not want anything coming from Camp Hansen.
A stray bullet — believed by residents to be from the Camp Hansen firing range — found lodged in a car parked in Kin’s Igei district in December has raised the ire of local residents. And on Tuesday, more than 270 landowners who jointly own about 80 acres of land on the base announced at a news conference they would not renew the lease when it expires in May 2012.
Under current laws, the Japanese government can override landowners’ refusal to lease their land for the use of U.S. forces.
Marine Corps officials have determined that the bullet, a steel core penetrator for a .50-caliber round, had no connection to any recent military training, according to a statement released Wednesday. Marine officials also briefed Tokyo and Okinawa government officials Wednesday about their investigation.
Residents maintain it was a round from live-fire training at Camp Hansen.
Masaharu Shimabukuro, 72, who leads the landowners’ group, said Tuesday that the community is demanding the military cease live-fire training.
"There was a witness," Shimabukuro said. "Are they saying that the witness is lying?"
Marine officials acknowledged in Wednesday’s statement that live-fire training was conducted at Camp Hansen’s Range 7 on Dec. 9 and 10 during which Marines fired 8,000 .50-caliber rounds from a truck-mounted M-2 machine gun. But they said their investigation determined that Ishikawa police reports showed the resident’s vehicle wasn’t parked in the alleged impact site until after the training was finished.
Further testing by Marine Corps ballistics experts determined that it was a "statistically remote probability" that a .50-caliber round would ricochet from the Central Training Area into Igei district, according to the Marine statement.
"Living here for the whole 58 years of my life, I have seen many stray bullet incidents," landowner Hitoshi Yamazato said Wednesday in response to the Marines’ findings. "The bullet was not something that regular people can have. It is obvious that it belonged to the military. Yet the military denying to take responsibility is outrageous."
Shimabukuro said that although the annual rent of the community-owned land was 40 million yen (about $400,000), the money could not make up for the possible danger to their children and grandchildren.
According to a spokesman for the Okinawa Defense Bureau of the Ministry of Defense, the ministry would seek an amicable way to renew the lease.
"We will continue to make an effort to obtain understanding of the community," the spokesman said.
Residents say ...A bullet fired during training on Camp Hansen traveled off base and lodged itself in a parked car in Kin’s Igei district.
The military says...Local police reports indicate the vehicle in question wasn’t parked at the alleged impact site until after training had been completed.
Furthermore, experts say it was a "statistically remote probability" that a .50-caliber round might ricochet and end up in the Igei district.