The Asahi Shimbun – 2008-04-27 22:54:20
OKINAWA PREFECTURE (April 25, 2998) — Seventy-six unexploded US mortar shells, including 22 that may contain chemical toxins, were found in a densely populated residential area in Okinawa Prefecture this month, the Defense Ministry said.
Judging from their shape and other features, the shells could be from the Battle of Okinawa that erupted in the closing months of World War II in 1945, ministry officials said Wednesday.
The Ground Self-Defense Force has left the 22 shells at the spot where they were found in Urasoe and is asking the US military to check the weapons.
The shells are corroded but pose no risk of leakage, according to the officials. The GSDF plans to place the 22 shells in airtight containers for transportation.
So far, there have been no confirmed cases of US chemical weapons abandoned in Japan, the officials said.
According to the Defense Ministry, the shells were discovered on a privately owned plot of land in Urasoe, adjacent to the prefectural capital of Naha.
On April 7, Okinawa prefectural police requested the GSDF to remove the shells. Four days later, the GSDF found 76 shells of the US military at the site. The GSDF recovered 54 of the weapons but stopped short of collecting the remaining 22 because they seemed to contain a liquid substance.
The GSDF identified the weapons as M57 mortar shells. There are two types of M57 shells: one used for conventional smoke bombs and the other that can contain highly lethal chemicals.
There is no clear evidence that the US military brought chemical weapons into the prefecture or used them during the Battle of Okinawa.
At the time of the Battle of Okinawa, the wartime use of chemical or biological weapons was prohibited under the Geneva Protocol signed in 1925. But their development and possession were not.
Before the United States returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972, the US military stored chemical weapons at bases in Okinawa Prefecture, including the Kadena Ammunition Depot, for use in the Vietnam War and elsewhere.
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