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Ex-Okinawa official blasts base rumor

GINOWAN, Okinawa — An original proponent of moving Marine air operations to a base to be built off the U.S. Navy’s White Beach port says a similar proposal now reportedly gaining traction is “preposterous.”

“I am appalled,” Kenjiro Nishida, a former Okinawa prefectural assemblyman who first pushed for the White Beach plan in 1999, told Stars and Stripes on Friday in a telephone interview. “My idea was to build the airport in the shallow waters between the White Beach and Tsuken.”

However, recent media reports, quoting unnamed Japanese officials, place the new proposal a mile or so north.

Nishida’s proposal, rejected by the U.S. at the time, would have connected the base to mainland Okinawa by a 2½ mile bridge, bringing an economic boom to sparsely populated Tsuken Island. The island has about 700 residents and is the only inhabited island off Okinawa’s east coast that is not connected to the main island.

“No one’s consulted me about this new plan, but if what the news reports say is true, there’s no way it would be possible,” Nishida said.

His plan did not involve dumping landfill over living coral, which the new plan reportedly does.

“This new plan will antagonize environmentalists throughout the world,” he said.

Although nothing has been announced officially, Japanese media reports the leading contender for an alternate base is on reclaimed land between Hamahiga Island and Ukibaru Jima, a small island now used for training by U.S. and Japanese forces.

The plan has already fueled protest rallies on Okinawa. Last week, some 600 people gathered in Uruma City, where White Beach is located, and 300 members of a women’s group held a rally in Naha, the prefectural capital.

During meetings with Cabinet members Thursday and Friday in Tokyo, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima informed them that he and other island leaders will reject any plan to keep the Marines on the island. In Tokyo on Friday morning, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, briefing them on recent talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other U.S. officials.

Following the meeting, Hatoyama told reporters that he would start negotiations with the U.S. after sharing information with his ministers concerning Okada’s report. He did not release any details of the plan the government is considering.

Hatoyama has promised an agreement on an alternate relocation site by the end of May.

Speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, Okada said he told Gates during a meeting in Washington last week that the plan being considered by Hatoyama was more feasible than the plan agreed to in 2006.

He also told the reporters he explained Hatoyama’s plan to U.S. Ambassador John Roos during a meeting March 26 in Tokyo.

The U.S. Embassy declined to give any specifics on what was said at the meeting.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.


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