US re­turns tiny por­tion of con­tro­ver­sial Ok­i­nawa base

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Tokyo, Japan - Japan said on Mon­day the United States had re­turned a sliver of land at a con­tro­ver­sial US air base on the south­ern is­land of Ok­i­nawa which has sparked a lengthy and fierce dis­pute.

Tokyo said the re­turn of the land, which ac­counts for less than one per cent of the 481 hectare Futenma base, would im­prove con­di­tions for lo­cals.

But many Ok­i­nawa res­i­dents want the Marine air base moved off their is­land al­to­gether.

They re­ject the Ja­panese and US gov­ern­ment project to min­imise noise and po­ten­tial safety prob­lems by mov­ing the base from a crowded city to a sparsely pop­u­lated district in Ok­i­nawa’s north.

Both Tokyo and Wash­ing­ton have con­sis­tently re­jected the idea of mov­ing the base out of Ok­i­nawa al­to­gether.

The US gave back the plot un­der a 2015 agree­ment to speed up the re­turn of land on the is­land.

“Thanks to the re­turn of the land, a city road will be fully open and the liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment for lo­cals will be largely im­proved,” Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga, the gov­ern­ment’s top spokesman, told re­porters.

“We’ll try to vis­i­bly re­duce Ok­i­nawa's bur­den,” he said.

In Fe­bru­ary the gov­ern­ment re­sumed work on build­ing the re­place­ment base af­ter it was stalled by a se­ries of ad­min­is­tra- tive and le­gal moves, spark­ing an­gry protests and scuf­fles with po­lice.

Ok­i­nawan Gov­er­nor Takeshi Onaga had tried to block ef­forts to re­claim land for the new offshore fa­cil­ity and he and Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe filed ri­val law­suits to try to set­tle the is­sue.

But in De­cem­ber the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, giv­ing the green light to move ahead on con­struc­tion.

Onaga, how­ever, filed a fresh law­suit last week against the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to try and halt con­struc­tion.

The gov­er­nor had no im­me­di­ate com­ment on the land re­turn.

Ok­i­nawa, which ac­counts for less than one per cent of Japan’s to­tal land area, hosts about 28,000 US troops - more than half of about 47,000 Amer­i­can mil­i­tary per­son­nel sta­tioned in Japan. Is­lan­ders have com­plained for decades that the rest of the coun­try ig­nores their bur­den, which also in­cludes host­ing some 70 per cent of land al­lot­ted for US bases in Japan.

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