Tue, Nov 01, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Okinawan governor opposes US heliport construction

AP , TOKYO

Okinawa's governor told Japan's central government yesterday that a plan to build a US heliport on the southern island as part of a realignment of the US military presence there was unacceptable.

The heliport plan was part of a deal struck over the weekend to close the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa and move its functions to another base on the island.

"[The heliport plan] completely disagrees with the prefecture's ideas. It is absolutely not acceptable to Okinawa," Governor Keiichi Inamine said after meeting with Defense Facilities Administration Agency chief Iwao Kitahara.

Japan and the US reached a broad agreement on strengthening military cooperation, reducing the number of US Marines in Okinawa and giving Tokyo greater responsibility for security in the Pacific.

Under the accord, 7,000 US Marines will leave Okinawa for the US Pacific territory of Guam, a move that is expected to take six years. Japan will work with the US government to examine how it can help facilitate the move to Guam.

There are currently 14,460 Marines in Japan, the largest Marine contingent based overseas. Nearly all are on Okinawa, where some residents have expressed a strong desire for a rapid reduction in US forces.

Inamine welcomed the cut in troop numbers, but balked at the plan to relocate some functions of the Futenma base.

He said many Okinawans want Futenma to be removed altogether because of safety and environmental concerns.

``We do not believe the latest relocation plan can effectively resolve the issue,'' Inamine said.

An official from the Defense Facilities Administration Agency quoted Kitahara as saying earlier yesterday that ``very difficult opinions and suggestions'' had been received.

``We'll continue our effort to show sincerity and gain understanding,'' the official said on condition of anonymity, in accordance with agency rules.

The central government has the final say on the proposed move.

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