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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cabinet OKs U.S. realignment plan but is vague on specifics


Staff writer

The Cabinet adopted plans Tuesday to help pay for the U.S. military realignment in Japan, pledging to come up with steps to stimulate the economies of communities hosting bases and to take money out of the defense budget to finance the program.

News photo
Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga speaks to reporters after a Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning.

The Cabinet decision follows the May 1 signing of a bilateral agreement as part of Washington's global realignment of the U.S. military.

The plans call for the largest realignment of U.S. forces in Japan ever. They include relocating 8,000 marines to Guam from Okinawa and moving the marines' Air Station Futenma from central to northern Okinawa Island.

The prefecture immediately voiced opposition to the plans, saying the central government's promise to stimulate the regional economy lacked specifics.

The Cabinet had adopted a different plan in 1999 on the relocation of the Futenma air base that included a number of specific construction projects. The plans approved Tuesday include no such details.

Municipal governments in Okinawa routinely seek funds or projects from the central government when pressured to accept U.S. forces in their communities.

"It's extremely regrettable that the Cabinet decision was made without enough prior consultation between the central government, and Okinawa Prefecture and local governments that will be affected," Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said in a statement.

"We understand very well that the government has its own way of thinking," Inamine told reporters Tuesday in Tokyo. "But the prefecture has its own position. We'd like to firmly keep presenting it."

In its own written statement, the central government said it will "drastically" review and streamline projects in its five-year defense buildup program of 24.24 trillion yen that began in fiscal 2005, and move some of the money into the realignment plans.

However, Defense Agency officials would not provide estimates of the total bill Japan will have to foot for implement the realignment, saying more information is needed from the U.S. side.

A major stumbling block in Okinawa is the strong antimilitary sentiment. Twenty-five percent of the civilian population died during the Battle of Okinawa in the closing days of World War II.

The government must get approval from the prefecture before it can begin construction of the new airfield off Cape Henoko that will handle the Futenma aircraft operations.

Inamine accepted a basic framework of the Japan-U.S. agreement to relocate the Futenma base Camp Schwab at Cape Henoko near the city of Nago, but has insisted that only a small helicopter base be built on land at Schwab, not the planned two runways in a V pattern that would stretch offshore, as agreed upon by Tokyo and Washington in the May 1 deal.

The central government has already rejected Inamine's proposal for the smaller helicopter base.

Tuesday's Cabinet accord, and attached policy paper, did not specify an alternative base, only saying the Japan-U.S. agreement "will be the basis for" relocating the Futenma base.



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