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NAHA, Okinawa — A minority member of Japan’s new coalition government is ready to go along with U.S. Marine Corps air operations remaining on Okinawa, under one condition: All Marines must leave the island within 15 years.

Mikio Shimoji, a member of a committee studying the 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and move the Marine units to a new facility on Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay, told about 300 supporters here Saturday that his People’s New Party has two proposals for alternate sites for the Marines.

A member of the Japan Diet from Okinawa, Shimoji told the crowd his party supports either moving the Marines to Kadena Air Base or to a large helipad on another part of Camp Schwab away from the water. He said his party and the other minority members of the coalition, the Social Democratic Party, will present their proposals Monday in Tokyo to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, who chairs the review committee.

Shimoji is seen as a maverick on Okinawa, where even the conservative governor is joining the chorus demanding that the Marine air units be relocated outside the island prefecture. Last month the prefectural assembly passed a unanimous resolution demanding Futenma be closed immediately and operations be moved off Okinawa.

The People’s New Party demand that all Marines leave Okinawa 15 years after the move of the air units to a replacement facility on the island is seen as a way to make the plan more acceptable to the base opposition.

For Okinawa’s future, Shimoji said Saturday, a nonpermanent presence of the U.S. military is what the island must seek.

Shimoji said his party’s first proposal is to move the bulk of Futenma operations to Kadena Air Base and move fighter jet training to bases in mainland Japan, including to Misawa Air Base and to Kansai Airport in Osaka, where the governor has indicated a positive stance on accepting military training at the international airport. The other proposal is to move the air operations to Camp Schwab’s inland area, with construction of a 1,500-meter-long runway.

Shimoji said his party’s two proposals would satisfy the operational requirements of the Marine Corps.

He said the Social Democratic Party also has two proposals — moving Marine air operations to Guam or to a Japan Air Self-Defense Force installation in mainland Japan.

According to Japanese press reports, the majority Democratic Party of Japan is set to support the alternate Camp Schwab plan or construction of a new air station on reclaimed land between the Navy’s White Beach and Tsuken Island.

Shimoji said that if Hatoyama doesn’t accept an alternate to the current relocation plan, his party would leave the coalition.

"If Prime Minister Hatoyama does not make a decision by the end of May, as he has promised, we will become an opposition party," he said.

However, some Okinawans appear to be growing weary of the debate. Closing Futenma has been on the drawing board since 1996. At a shopping mall in Ginowan, which hosts the base, shoppers were skeptical that Marine air operations, stationed in the middle of the city since the end of World War II, could be moved off the island.

"In reality, I think it is very difficult," said a 33-year-old Naha man, who gave only his family name of Kishimoto. He said he thinks Hatoyama is about to break his campaign promise to move the Marine base outside Okinawa.

Keiei Tome, 62, of Urasoe, said he’s beginning to realize Okinawa has very little choice but to accept the Marines staying on the island.

His 19-year-old son, Inori Tome, said Hatoyama ought to listen to the voice of Okinawa.

"Okinawa’s consensus is not to build a new military base at Henoko [and Oura Bay]," he said. "If a base must be built by damaging Okinawa’s precious sea environment, then the current base might as well stay where it is."

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