TOKYO (AP) _ Japan's military dismissed a colonel and punished 23 other officers Thursday for covering up alleged illegal shooting on a military firing range.

The Defense Agency fired Col. Yasunobu Hideshima, 53, who was charged last month with letting three civilian friends fire guns during a drill in 1994, said Lt. Col. Yakayuki Hamada, a military spokesman.

Lt. Gen. Yoshiharu Amano, 56, and Lt. Gen. Michihiko Suzuki, 53, were suspended from duty for 20 days each, Hamada said. The two were the highest-ranking Japanese military officers ever to be suspended.

Amano, Suzuki and another of the punished officers, Maj. Gen. Junichi Ikeda, offered to resign, but the Defense Agency had not decided whether to accept the resignations, Hamada said.

The punishments follow a series of scandals shaking the country's police departments. On Thursday, prosecutors demanded prison sentences for five former police officials who pleaded guilty to covering up a colleague's drug abuse.

According to a Defense Agency report, Hideshima, who was a leader of the 1st Airborne Brigade at the time, invited three acquaintances to one of the force's ranges south of Tokyo in November 1994.

Hideshima is accused of fired a hunting gun which belonged to one of the civilians without required police approval and of letting the three civilians illegally test-fire a military rifle and machine gun at the range.