Authors: Kim Victoria Browne
Abstract: World War II (WWII) remains have lain undisturbed throughout Palau for over 70 years. The small island of Peleliu, located in the Republic of Palau, contains one of the world’s best preserved WWII battlegrounds. Hidden beneath the island’s tropical canopy is an immense collection of wartime relics and historic ruins. Peleliu also contains a vast labyrinth of Japanese constructed subterranean caves and passageways. Today, these underground chambers serve as a final resting place for numerous Japanese soldiers killed during ‘Operation Stalemate II’. The wartime contents of Peleliu’s caves, including the sheer quantity of human skeletal remains, testify to the violence and brutality that engulfed this small Pacific island during the final months of the Second World War. Despite the region’s historical importance to both Japan and the United States, the island’s caves are today under threat from looters, tourists and souvenir collectors. The recent decision by the Palauan government to unseal 200 Japanese caves located on Peleliu will increase cave looting. Therefore, in order to stem the trade in battlefield relics, it is vital that Palau’s law enforcement is encouraged by the State to liaise with local chiefs and clan elders regarding the economic benefits of battlefield tourism, especially for their communities. While legislation is important in the fight against looting, so is effective law enforcement.
Keywords: Peleliu; cave looting; World War II; human skeletetal remains; repatriation; law enforcement; trafficking