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Town Seeks Compensation from Japanese WWII Straggler

May 21, 1996 GMT

LUBANG, Philippines (AP) _ He held out for 29 years, alone in the Philippine jungle, refusing to believe World War II was over.

On Tuesday, Lt. Hiroo Onoda of the Imperial Japanese Army tried to mend fences with the Filipinos he shot and harassed in his personal war _ and found not everyone is ready to forget the past.

He emerged from the jungle in 1974 after his former commanding officer flew to the island and ordered him to stop fighting.

Hundreds of villagers cheered Onoda at a welcoming ceremony in the town of Looc, where he presented a $10,000 check to a scholarship fund.

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``We are offering our warm hand of friendship to Japan through Lt. Hiroo Onoda,″ said Josephine Ramirez Sato, the governor of Mindoro Occidental province, who invited Onoda in hopes of attracting more Japanese investment.

But the town council presented Onoda with a resolution asking him to compensate the families of seven people whom he allegedly killed.

And a group of about 50 relatives of victims protested at a Japanese-Filipino friendship marker that was to be visited by the former soldier.

``We do not welcome Onoda until he compensates all his victims. We are asking for justice,″ said Wilfredo Bleza, a spokesman for the group who said Onoda stole his family’s cattle.

Onoda, who said he hoped the visit would help him forget the bad memories of his service without ``a single truly happy day,″ appeared surprised by requests for compensation, and offered no apologies for his wartime activities.

``In any country, soldiers operate under orders. As long as they follow orders and don’t violate international law, then they have no responsibility,″ he said.

But he warmly embraced Candido Tria, an 81-year-old farmer whom Onoda shot when he followed his cattle into the jungle and a bit too close to the soldier’s hideout.

``I’m happy he is back,″ Tria said. ``It wasn’t anything big.″

Most other islanders also appeared pleased to see the diminutive Onoda, who remains one of the most famous Japanese in the Philippines.

``Some people said he killed many people. But it’s already a thing of the past. He’s part of our history,″ said Amy Villar, a junior high school teacher.

To survive, he gathered food from the jungle or stole from local farmers. Two other soldiers who lived with him were killed in gun battles.