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Friday February 23, 2001

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Japanese government suspects negligence in sub collision

By The Associated Press

TOKYO - The Japanese government suspects "grave negligence" by the crew of a U.S. submarine that sank a Japanese fishing vessel and may push for disciplinary action, a top spokesman said yesterday.

The comments came as family members of the victims met separately with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley. They requested that every effort be made to salvage the vessel and recover the bodies.

The rising tension over the Feb. 9 accident comes after U.S. investigators said the USS Greeneville spotted a ship in the area more than an hour before the collision off the coast of Hawaii. Nine Japanese - including four high school students - are missing and presumed dead.

"The U.S. submarine made a sudden surfacing despite the detection of a boat - that indicates grave negligence," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters. "We take it as a grave matter and we must take measures on our own," he added without elaborating.

Fukuda said his government looked forward to a full account of the causes of the accident in a Navy court of inquiry Monday. Tokyo would push for "strict disciplinary steps on the U.S. side" if necessary, he said.

Japanese also criticized news that a crewman who was plotting sonar readings was distracted by civilian guests and halted his work. Many have been outraged that civilians were even allowed in the sub's control room.

"It is quite natural that we should ask the United States government for a thorough investigation," Mori was quoted by Kyodo News service and national broadcaster NHK as telling reporters.

Fifteen relatives of the victims met with Mori and Foley in Tokyo yesterday. They urged Mori to take an active role in the investigation of the accident, and not to leave the decision about whether to raise the Ehime Maru to the United States alone

"What makes me furious is the way that what happened on board the submarine is being revealed bit by bit," said Ryosuke Terata, father of 17-year-old Yusuke Terata, one of the four missing students. "I'm overcome with anger."

The relatives said they were desperate to have "some remembrance" of their missing loved ones, said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, the prime minister's deputy press secretary. They also asked the Japanese government to arrange a meeting between them and President Bush.

Mori expressed his sympathies and promised to "make every effort" to fulfill their requests, Koshikawa said.

The families' pleas came as the United States named Adm. Isamu Ozawa of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force as the Japanese adviser to the U.S. Navy's court of inquiry. Ozawa, 50, was invited by U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Thomas Fargo.

The families have been pushing for Cmdr. Scott Waddle to come to their small town in southwestern Japan and apologize directly to them, though they did not mention that demand to Mori, the spokesman added.

That is unlikely in any case, however, because of the legal implications of taking responsibility before the investigation is completed.

The families did get an apology from the U.S. ambassador during their meeting yesterday evening, Japanese media reported. The U.S. Embassy declined comment on it.

A string of apologies have already been made by the U.S. government, including by Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Anger over the accident has also compounded tensions over the heavy U.S. military presence on the southern island of Okinawa, where crimes linked to American troops have heightened calls for a reduction of forces there.

About 40 people from the Japan Council of Churches gathered in front of Parliament yesterday to protest the military presence.

Both the U.S. and the Japanese governments have made strong efforts to prevent the accident from damaging their long-term strategic relationship. Japan is host to 47,000 American troops under a security treaty that forms the bedrock of the U.S. military posture in Asia.