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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The new head of Japan’s Defense Facilities Administration Agency is visiting Okinawa this week, touring military bases and the towns that host them and talking to U.S. military and Okinawan officials.

The new head, Iwao Kitahara, is no stranger to Okinawa and the thorny issue of realigning U.S. forces on the island.

He was the agency’s Naha bureau head from 1998 to 2000.

On Monday, Kitahara, 58, from Nagano, toured communities that host U.S. Marine bases in northern Okinawa.

On Tuesday he was scheduled to pay a call on Major Gen. Joseph Weber, commander of Marine Corps Forces Japan and the highest-ranking U.S. officer on the island.

He also was to visit the mayors of communities hosting U.S. bases in central Okinawa and Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine.

On Wednesday he is set to tour Marine camps Schwab and Hansen and Japan Self-Defense Force bases and hold a news conference at the Harborview Hotel in Naha.

His visit comes at a time the United States and Japan are in talks to realign U.S. forces in Japan, with an eye toward relieving what officials on both sides of the Pacific say is Okinawa’s “burden.”

U.S. bases cover one-fifth of the island, hosting more than half of the U.S. troops in Japan.

One of the major points in the so-called Special Action Committee on Okinawa Report was an agreement to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in five to seven years, relocating it to a new sea-based facility in the waters off northeastern Okinawa.

But that project has been stalled and many Japanese officials doubt it will ever get beyond the present ongoing environmental assessment.

In reporting Kitahara’s promotion to DFAA chief earlier this month, some Japanese newspapers suggested the move showed the Defense Agency now is open to alternative proposals for replacing MCAS Futenma, including moving some Marine air operations to Kadena Air Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

However, Defense Agency Director general Yoshinori Ono denied such speculation, adding that naming a new director for the DFAA was just “part of a normal personnel reshuffle,” according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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