Japanese government may ask U.S. to move some firing drills out of Okinawa
TOKYO — The government of Japan is considering asking the U.S. government to relocate live firing exercises and other drills conducted by U.S. Marine Corps ground troops at Camp Hansen and other military bases in Okinawa Prefecture to other prefectures, it was learned Saturday.
Struggling to resolve the issue of the relocation of the marines' Futenma Air Station in the prefecture, the government is considering the plan as a measure to reduce the burden of Okinawa citizens and local governments in accommodating U.S. military bases.
According to sources, one possible relocation site for the drills currently conducted at bases including Camp Hansen, which straddles Kincho and three other Okinawan cities, is the Ground Self-Defense Force's training field at Hijudai, Oita Prefecture.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama plans to ask governors of prefectures where the possible relocation sites are located to accept the plan at a May 27 National Governors' Association meeting, the sources said.
However, it is likely that local governments tapped to host the possible relocation sites would oppose accommodating the firing exercises. It is also unclear whether the U.S. government would accept any decrease in drills conducted in Okinawa Prefecture.
Observers said the government might take time to negotiate with parties involved in the plan.
According to the idea, U.S. Marine ground forces stationed in Okinawa Prefecture would visit GSDF training fields located in several prefectures in rotation to conduct live fire exercises and other drills. One exercise is expected to last several weeks.
The Marines' live fire exercises at Camp Hansen have required the shutting down of a prefectural highway running through the camp. In a 1996 Japan-U.S. agreement on the eventual relocation of Futenma Air Station, the two countries agreed to stop live fire exercises necessitating closure of the prefectural highway at Camp Hansen, and instead conduct the drills at the GSDF training camps at Hijudai; Yausubetsu, Hokkaido; Higashi-Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture; Kita-Fuji, Yamanashi Prefecture; and Ojojihara, Miyagi Prefecture.
However, live fire exercises and other drills that do not require closure of the highway are still conducted at Camp Hansen and other U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture.
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