Ex-senior diplomat to testify over Okinawa reversion

by Keiji Hirano

A former senior Foreign Ministry official will testify at a court over the negotiation process on the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty from U.S. control, which is said to have been hidden from public scrutiny, lawyers for a group of plaintiffs suggested Tuesday.

Bunroku Yoshino, then the ministry's American Bureau chief, will appear at the Tokyo District Court in December on behalf of the group of plaintiffs who demand that the state disclose documents they argue indicate the existence of a bilateral secret agreement over cost burdens for the reversion.

The targeted three documents, which were already declassified by the U.S. government in the early 2000s, carry the initials of high-ranking negotiators of the two countries at the time, and Yoshino has said in media interviews that one set of initials is his.

Presiding Judge Norihiko Sugihara of the court told the plaintiffs and the defendants that the court will seek the approval of the foreign minister to summon Yoshino as a testifier, based on the provision of the code of civil procedure, so he could testify at the court on Dec. 1.

At the first hearing in June, Sugihara urged the plaintiffs to bring Yoshino to the court, saying, ''The court would like to hear what he has to say, as the existence or absence of the documents is the main point of dispute in this suit.''

The state told the court it does not possess the papers, requesting that the court reject the lawsuit.

Tokyo has consistently denied the existence of the secret pact, while the plaintiffs argue one of the documents indicates Japan secretly shouldered $4 million in costs Washington was supposed to pay to restore Okinawa land plots that U.S. forces had used back to original farmland.

Over the alleged secret pact, a Mainichi Shimbun reporter was convicted in the 1970s for urging a Foreign Ministry secretary to hand over classified documents about the negotiation process behind the reversion, raising public concerns over infringement on the people's right to know.

The reporter, Takichi Nishiyama, is one of the plaintiffs.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on August 25, 2009)