Clinton tells troops to be ''good neighbors'' to Okinawa

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa - President Clinton told U.S. troops Saturday that they ''need to be good neighbors'' to the people of Okinawa, weary with the massive American military presence on this slender island and angry about instances of unruly conduct and crime.

''Each of us has a personal obligation to do everything that we can to strengthen our friendship and to do nothing to harm it,'' Clinton instructed thousands of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen who waited past 11 p.m. to see the president speak at a grassy field alongside a row of barracks.

He came to the base with his daughter Chelsea after a banquet at the summit of industrialized powers.

The president combined his gently worded admonishment with a heavy dose of praise for the military's sacrifices and community service. His message was well received.

''It was real uplifting,'' said Marine Lance Cpl. Mike Farrow, 18, of Orlando, Fla. ''We haven't had much to smile about around here lately. But now there are smiles on a lot of people's faces.

Marine Cpl. Ramiro Barrera, 22, from Brownsville, Texas, said, ''A lot of people will take notice about being good neighbors because this is the commander in chief.''

Clinton had been scheduled to address the troops Sunday just before leaving Okinawa but he moved up his appearance so he could depart a little earlier to rejoin the Mideast peace talks at Camp David.

His visit came amid new tensions over a 19-year-old Marine who was arrested early this month for allegedly entering a private home, crawling into a 14-year-old girl's bed and fondling her in her sleep. Tens of thousands of Japanese demonstrators formed a human chain around Kadena Air Force Base on Thursday, the eve of Clinton's arrival, to demand a reduction of bases and U.S. servicemen.

Okinawa, the 90-mile-long island synonymous with the last major land battle of World War II, is home for 26,000 of the 47,000 U.S. forces stationed throughout Japan. The United States established its presence here after the war, using Okinawa's bases as firewall against trouble in Asia.

While U.S. forces help keep the peace, the misbehavior of some troops has spawned waves of anti-American resentment. Five years ago, tens of thousands of Okinawans marched in outrage over the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen. As a result, the United States pledged to reduce its footprint on the island.

Clinton, in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, expressed regret about misconduct by U.S. forces, a U.S. official said. A Japanese official construed Clinton's remarks as an apology for the incident early this month. The Japanese spokesman quoted Clinton as telling Mori, ''Most of the troops have been good neighbors, but the incident hurt me in the heart.''

In his address to troops, Clinton said, ''We know our hosts in Okinawa have borne a heavy burden, hosting half our forces in Japan on less than one percent of its land. They, too, have paid a price to preserve the peace and that is why we need to be good neighbors to them in addition to being good allies.''

Balancing his remarks, Clinton told the troops that ''you should be very, very proud'' of their service.

''You will never know how many wars you have deterred, how many deaths you have prevented,'' the president said. ''But you know the numbers of wars that have been fought in these waters since the United States' forces have been stationed here. That number is zero.''

He cited the military units, name by name, to commend them for volunteer activities, teaching English to children, replacing a footpath bridge, preparing for the summit and similar projects.

''These acts of kindness give a whole new meaning to the old words, 'Send in the Marines,''' Clinton said.

In his meeting with Mori, the president and prime minister agreed that Japan would slightly reduce the $5 billion Tokyo pays for U.S. bases on Okinawa, U.S. and Japanese officials said. The reduction would be about $30 million. They also agreed to extend for a fourth year trade talks on a broad range of business sectors, from telecommunications to financial services and pharmaceuticals.


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