Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Japan government to pay US$27m in noise pollution suit

AFP , TOKYO

Representatives of plaintiff attorneys in an aviation noise lawsuit involving US Kadena Air Base display banners of court decision in front of Naha District Court in Naha, Okinawa Province yesterday. Residents near the US air base were awarded ?2.8 billion (US$26.7 million), the largest amount of compensation in Japan in a noise pollution suit involving a military base or airport. Many local residents are unsatisfied with the decision, however, as the Naha District Court turned down a request by residents to ban nightly flights at the largest US air base in East Asia.

PHOTO: EPA

A court ordered the Japanese government yesterday to pay a record US$27 million dollars to compensate people in Okinawa who said they lost their hearing and suffered psychologically from noise from a US air base.

The Okinawa district court said, however, that it could not order, as the plaintiffs requested, that flights to and from the Kaneda base, the biggest US air base in East Asia, be banned between 7pm and 7am.

"The noise was beyond tolerance," presiding judge Kyoji Iida said in his ruling, according to the Japan Broadcasting Corp.

"The plaintiffs were suffering psychological damage, including difficulties in sleep," the judge said.

However, "The Japanese government cannot restrict activities of the US military unless there is a particular clause to do so in domestic law," Iida said.

The class suit was brought by 5,541 plaintiffs in the southern island of Okinawa, which hosts 65 percent of the US troops in Japan despite accounting for less than one percent of the country's land mass.

The ?2.8 billion (US$27 million dollars) in damages was the biggest ever in Japan in a noise pollution suit, according to Japanese media.

The plaintiffs, some of whom said they were diagnosed with hearing loss due to the flights, had been seeking ?16 billion.

Some of them marched in front of the court before the ruling carrying a big banner which read, "Give us our silent night back!"

"It was the worst ever ruling," said Toshio Ikemiyagi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

"I doubt the court understands the feeling of Okinawans. We want to appeal to a high court," he said.

Japan is pressing for the US to move at least some of its troops out of Okinawa, which was captured by US forces in 1945 in the bloodiest Pacific battle of World War II and returned in 1972.

The government allowed US military flights to continue even after the island's return.

Anti-US sentiment has been high due to a series of crimes by soldiers in Okinawa, including the 1995 gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US Marines.

The US has approximately 40,500 troops based in Japan, a close US ally which is next to potential conflict areas such as the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait.

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