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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Japan off hook for China gas weapons ills: court

Staff writer

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling and rejected compensation claims from four Chinese people who were injured and one whose relative died from being exposed to chemical weapons abandoned by Japan in China at the end of the war.

Presiding Judge Hiromitsu Okita said the Japanese government was not liable for death or injury from the weapons, saying it could not have conducted a proper search for weapons in another country.

The plaintiffs had sought a combined 80 million yen from the Japanese government.

The court said the state was not obligated to conduct a search or to pay damages "because it cannot be said that the defendants could have prevented the outcome" of the death and injuries in the case.

The plaintiffs live in Heilongjiang Province, where the chemical weapons released their poison in four separate incidents between 1950 to 1987. They filed the suit in 1997.

The plaintiffs had argued the Japanese government was responsible for removing the chemical weapons, mainly mustard gas and lewisite, when the Imperial Japanese Army withdrew from China. They had charged that the four people who survived exposure to the gas had chronic health problems, including respiratory ailments.

"I feel very disappointed with the verdict," Akira Izumisawa, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told reporters.

Izumisawa said one positive outcome was that the court appeared to acknowledge that the chemical weapons were manufactured by the Imperial army, rejecting arguments by defendants that the chemical shells could have been those left by the Soviet army or the Chinese forces themselves.

But lawyer Toshitaka Onodera for the plaintiffs called the verdict "unacceptable" and vowed to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

"The verdict acknowledged that Japan bore a responsibility to dispose of the chemical weapons and noted their presence posed a danger to many lives. It is incomprehensible that the court failed to hold the state liable," Onodera said.

The Tokyo District Court ruled in September 2003, however, that the government was responsible for three incidents of gas poisoning in China between 1974 to 1995 and ordered a combined 200 million yen in compensation be paid to the 13 Chinese plaintiffs in the case.

The court said the government could have found many of the abandoned chemical weapons by looking at military records and speaking to former soldiers, even if the weapons were spread throughout China.

The government has appealed the verdict and the case is pending before the Tokyo High Court.

A third lawsuit over the abandoned chemical weapons was filed in January by 48 Heilongjiang residents, demanding 1.4 billion yen in compensation from Japan for an October 2003 incident in which one person was killed and 43 were injured from exposure to a chemical weapons canister at a construction site.

Japan has calculated that the Imperial forces abandoned at least 300,000 to 400,000 chemical shells in China, while China puts the number at around 2 million.

The Chinese government has also claimed at least 2,000 Chinese have been killed or wounded by weapons left behind by the Imperial army.

Although Japan in 2000 launched a search to find and dispose of abandoned weapons, it had only cleared 40,000 as of July. The two countries have agreed that Japan would remove all of the chemical weapons it left in China by 2012.

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The Japan Times

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