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Friday, May 12, 2006

Inamine warms to plan for moving Futenma base

Stage seen set to start U.S. forces realignment

Staff writer

Gov. Keiichi Inamine on Thursday effectively endorsed the central government's plan for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa, removing a major obstacle to implementing the U.S. military realignment plan.

News photo
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi greets Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine before their meeting Thursday at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo.

Inamine and Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga signed a document in Tokyo stating the central and Okinawan governments have agreed to adopt the state's accord with the U.S. as "the basis for" the Futenma relocation.

Japan and the United States agreed in the accord signed May 1 to build two runways in a V-pattern extending offshore at Camp Schwab on Cape Henoko, part of the city of Nago.

Inamine for the first time expressed his support for the basic framework of the government's plan, based on the Japan-U.S. agreement.

The Futenma base is located in the middle of what is now densely populated Ginowan in central Okinawa. Both the city and prefecture have long demanded the marines leave, citing the danger of accidents involving U.S. military aircraft as well as noise pollution.

"Removing the danger of the Futenma air station has been the No. 1 long-standing issue for Okinawa," Inamine told a news conference held with Nukaga at the Defense Agency after their meeting. "Now we have managed to make the first step for an early resolution of (the issue)."

Inamine told reporters the prefecture will continue to request that the central government build just a heliport on Cape Henoko land as "an emergency, temporary measure," until a permanent relocation site is decided on. The central government has already rejected that proposal.

Takemasa Moriya, Defense Agency vice minister, told a separate press briefing he reckoned the central government won Okinawa's "understanding" for the Schwab site.

Thursday's five-point agreement on the relocation also included eliminating dangers from the new airfield, ensuring the safety of area residents and protecting the natural environment.

The paper also says the Defense Agency, Okinawa Prefecture, Nago and other related local authorities will continue talks "in good faith" on the construction plan.

The Cabinet is expected to adopt the accord on the U.S. forces realignment soon.

However, the Nago airfield could still face some hurdles in the eight years it will take to construct it.

To fill in the shallows in the bay off Cape Henoko for the facility, the central government needs approval of the Okinawa governor, one major reason why the governor's consent is important for the Futenma relocation plan. Inamine has said he will not run in the next gubernatorial election, in November.

He "has remained mum on the land-fill issue so far because the next governor who will (probably) handle the issue," a prefectural official said.

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The Japan Times

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