Okinawa officials against idea of U.S. base relocation within island

17:54, February 20, 2010      

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Japan's Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima told Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano Saturday that relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station within his Prefecture would pose problems for the southernmost prefecture.

Nakaima, following talks with Hirofumi at Okinawa's prefectural office in Naha, told reporters it would be "difficult" for his prefecture to accept relocation within the prefecture, local media sources said.

Hirano, for his part, was quoted as telling Nakaima, "We are seeking the 'best' conclusion, but we may end up drawing a 'better ' conclusion," indicating that the central government may come up with a plan to relocate the Futemma facility within the prefecture.

Hirano's two-day visit to Okinawa comes on the back of Japan's central government allegedly floating to Washington the idea of building a helipad at the Marine Corps' Camp Schwab in the Okinawa city of Nago to relocate the Futemma facility, instead of a 2006 plan agreed by the two countries to move the facility to a coastal area off the camp.

However Hirofumi on Saturday again denied making any new proposals to Washington, saying the government is still considering its options from scratch.

"We have not sounded out the United States about the idea. We are considering the relocation on a zero basis," Hirano told Nakaima, according to local sources.

Nakaima having made it clear to Hirano that the Okinawa prefectural government prefers relocating the Futemma facility outside Okinawa, said that he wished the central government would maintain open talks with the prefectural government on the matter, so officials in Okinawa could stay informed.

Hirano, reinforcing his previous comments that the central government was not acting with complete autonomy and respected the views of local officials and residents, said that the central government has set up a liaison office at the Cabinet Secretariat and its branch office in Naha to collect information and requests from local figures in Okinawa to better deal with the issue of U.S. military bases.

Despite Hirano's latest fact-finding and goodwill mission, Okinawan officials, including newly elected Nago mayor Susumu Inamine, a fierce opponent of the air base being relocated to his city, have been rattled by media reports of Japan suggesting Washington consider the idea of building a heliport at U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, instead of constructing an airfield with two runways off the camp as per a 2006 accord made between the two countries.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government allegedly sounded out Washington about the idea in early February, along with transferring some of the Futemma exercises outside Okinawa.

Reports stated the government is considering constructing a heliport about 300-500 meters long at Camp Schwab in favor of a plan to build a 1,500 meter long runway on the base that was dropped in past negotiations between the U.S. and the previous Liberal Democratic Party-led government.

The relocating of Futemma is pegged to be completed by 2014, but within the Democratic Party of Japan's (DPJ) tripartite factions there is a vast gulf between opinions.

The People's New Party (PNP) proposes to consolidate Futemma's heliport functions into the U.S. Air Force's Kadena Air Base nearby, or alternatively to transfer them to Camp Schwab. However the Social Democratic Party (SDP), maintains it wants the relocation site to be outside Okinawa or outside of Japan completely, citing the U.S. territory of Guam as a possible option and has said that it would quit the ruling coalition if the government decides to keep the base on Okinawa.

SDP chief Mizuho Fukushima told reporters Friday, "I understand that the Nago mayor, the people in Nago, and those in Okinawa Prefecture think moving the facility to either the coastal area or the inland area is not an option."

Hatoyama has a self-imposed deadline of the end of May to determine the immediate future of the U.S. Marine Corps Futemma Air Station, meanwhile Washington's latest stance on the relocation issues, amid the recent controversy, remains unclear, although on numerous occasions recently, Washington has called for Tokyo to abide by the existing 2006 agreement.

Source: Xinhua
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