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Victims of Japanese Chemical Weapons Supported in Harbin
More than 200 local residents gathered Sunday in this northeastern city -- Harbin to rally behind 18 fellow citizens who are suing the Japanese government for injuries they sustained by chemical weapons left behind by Japanese troops in World War II.

Wang Guozhi, a citizen of Harbin, said, "Although Japan's invasion war against China, which caused massive destruction of human life and property, ended more than 50 years ago, the chemical weapons left behind by the Japanese troops are posing a serious threat to life and property of Chinese people."

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reaffirmed in May 2000 that it held the Japanese government responsible for destroying the chemical weapons the Japanese invaders abandoned in China during World War II.

China has declared that the Japanese army used and left behind large quantities of chemical weapons in Chinese territory during its invasion of China during World War II.

The Japanese government has admitted its army used and later abandoned the weapons, and agrees it must destroy them, according to OPCW Deputy Secretary-General John Gee.

On December 17 and 18 last year, the local court in Tokyo heard witness testimony from the 18 Chinese victims who were injured in seven separate incidents of explosions and accidental leaks of the chemical weapons.

Chinese lawyer Su Xiangxiang, as a witness for the victims, and three Japanese lawyers for the Chinese plaintiffs, appeared in the court. Su presented testimonies he had arduously collected over the past years.

The lawsuit was accepted by the local court in early 1996, but no substantial progress was made until testimony and evidence were presented last May. Before that, more than 10 hearings were held to debate the merit of the case.

According to court records, the injuries to plaintiffs were sustained during the leak of a mustard gas bomb in 1974, in which sailors aboard a ship on a local river were poisoned; a leak of barreled poisonous gas in Mudanjiang in 1982; and the explosion of a poison gas bomb in Shuangcheng in 1995, and four other cases.

The plaintiffs want an apology from the Japanese government and 360 million Japanese yen in compensation.

"Over the past five years, the Japanese government obstructed the local court in Tokyo to start the process of investigations, saying that the claims of the lawsuit fell short of legal basis," said one of the three Japanese defense attorneys.

The Japanese lawyer said the Chinese victims have the right to ask for compensation from Japan, under international humanitarian law, the international human rights law and private international law.

"It is justifiable for the Chinese victims to claim compensation from the Japanese government through legal procedures,

which will help stir the desire for permanent peace in both the Chinese and Japanese people," said Wang Guozhi.

Between February and July this year, the local court of Tokyo will hold four more hearings to get direct testimony from the victims, according to sources.

Statistics from the local public security department show that over the past 20 years, more than 10,000 bombs confirmed to have been left behind by the Japanese army have been discovered in northeast China.

China and Japan jointly started a clean-up campaign of abandoned chemical weapons in Bei'an city, Heilongjiang, in September 2000.

More than 700,000 items of chemical ammunitions are estimated to have been left in China by Japan, which has an obligation to remove these weapons within ten years, under the terms of the Convention for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which came into effect in April 1997.

(Xinhua News Agency January 8, 2002)

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