Controversial urban warfare range opening on Okinawa
June 26, 2005
An Army urban warfare complex near a residential area on Okinawa will be available for live-fire exercises Monday, the government of Japan announced Friday, triggering protests from island officials.
The newly built Camp Hansen Range 4 complex lies 328 yards from the Igei district of Kin and endangers its residents, community activists said after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and U.S. Forces Japan confirmed the announcement Friday afternoon.
The complex is opening despite Japanese government plans to build a replacement facility near Camp Hansen’s Range 16, about 1,000 yards from Igei. However, there is no timetable for that project.
The plans to build a replacement facility validate the community’s fears of Range 4, said Igei district Mayor Masafumi Ikehara, who called the opening “an outrage.”
“Both governments agreed to move the facility because they acknowledged danger of having the facility in such proximity to our community,” Ikehara said. “Even temporarily, they should never use that facility. They completely ignore our voice.”
The range has been made as safe as possible for the community, U.S. Forces Japan officials said. Soundproof walls, high-density rubber and an absorbent material used to prevent stray bullets will keep the community safe while allowing the military to meet its obligations, they said.
“We always try to minimize the impact to the local community,” said USFJ spokeswoman Capt. Richelle Dowdell, who could not say whether the facility actually will be used Monday, but only that it will be available.
The urban warfare complex includes a “shoot house,” breaching bay, 50-meter flat shooting range, rappelling tower and an administrative area.
Igei community residents have protested the complex in front of Camp Hansen’s main gate daily since May 2004. “Both Japanese and U.S. governments are fully aware of concerns of the local community,” said a spokesman for the Japanese government’s Okinawa liaison office. “We appreciate all the safety measures taken by the military,” he said. Today’s announcement was a result of intense coordination by both governments to address concerns of the local community, he said.
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said in a statement that “the decision ignores repeated requests by Igei residents and people in Kin. … We have opposed the facility because it is too close to the local community and the Okinawa Expressway. … From the standpoint of protecting the residents, it will never be acceptable, even for temporary use.”