Nostalgic Japanese apologize to war dead in Nagaland

Wednesday, 13 November 2002, 08:00 Hrs
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GUWAHATI: Fifty eight years ago, it was the sound of staccato gunfire that reverberated in the hills of Kohima, the capital of the northeastern state of Nagaland, with Japanese soldiers bombarding the region.

Today it is not the sound of mortar or sniper fire, but the chanting of hymns from the Bible by a group of Japanese church leaders that can be heard at the World War II cemetery in Kohima.

"We sincerely apologize to the Naga people who suffered at the hands of the Japanese soldiers for siding with the Allied Forces during World War II," Keiko Holmes, the leader of the four member Japanese delegation, said at the end of the prayer meeting at the Kohima cemetery Tuesday.

"Past is past and the gesture shown by the Japanese team was really touching," Reverend V.K. Nuh, general secretary of the Nagaland baptist church council, said over the telephone from Kohima.

Holmes and her team are part of Agape, a reconciliation mission supported by the Japanese government, to heal the wounds of World War II. Holmes was conferred the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the British queen for her goodwill missions abroad.

The Japanese gesture of goodwill was reciprocated in no uncertain terms by a Naga war veteran who was present at the prayer meeting.

"I, on behalf of the Naga people, accept your apology and pardon Japan for the attack on us," 82-year-old Dovi Khate told the Japanese team in a voice choked with emotion.

"There were eight of us at one point of time, fighting a huge Japanese brigade. Five among us died and three survived the attack. Two survivors died of old age and today I am the lone witness to the war."

The Nagaland baptist church organized the prayer meeting following requests from Agape to allow them to come and apologize to the dead soldiers at the cemetery.

On March 1944 the Japanese launched an offensive in Myanmar (previously Burma) to pre-empt the plans of the Allied Forces led by British soldiers to retake the area and break into India.

In the ensuing war, the Japanese soldiers reached Kohima and fought a bloody battle with the Allied troops, leading to the deaths of 17,857 men most of them British and Indian.

"The Nagas fought alongside the British to repulse the advancing Japanese and in the process suffered heavy casualties," Nuh said. "But after the war, no British came and acknowledged the bravery of the Nagas, while the Japanese did although 58 years later."

The dead at Kohima have their own simple and moving monument which bears the epitaph: "When you go home tell them of us and say: for their tomorrow, we gave our today."

The Japanese team pledged to carry the message of goodwill across the world to help prevent killing and bloodshed.

"It would be our endeavor to carry the message of peace as we are messengers of goodwill," one of the Japanese team members said.

Source: IANS
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