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NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa residents, environmentalists and anti-military advocates sued the Japanese government Monday, demanding it halt a seabed drilling test for a new U.S. Marine Corps air station off the shore of Henoko in Nago.

Among those suing are 68 Okinawa residents from Henoko and elsewhere, including a fisherman from neighboring Kunigami.

In the lawsuit, they argue a new military airport would further burden Okinawans who already bear the burdens of a heavy U.S. military presence. The facility also would endanger various corals and the dugong, a type of manatee that feeds there, the lawsuit contends.

“Corals have been already damaged by the platforms set up for the drilling survey,” said Toshio Ikemiyagi, chief lawyer for those who filed the lawsuit. “If this continues, impacts on dugongs are unavoidable.”

The lawsuit, filed at Naha District Court, seeks to suspend construction of the air station, which is to be built on reclaimed land next to Camp Schwab.

“The lawsuit was brought by plaintiffs who are resolved not to let any new military base be built on Okinawa,” Ikemiyagi said.

He said the World Conservation Union has advised the Japanese government twice to cancel the project.

“Ecologists, environmental specialists as well as the Japan Federation of Bar Associations have expressed opposition,” he said. “The government should heed … such voices.”

Meanwhile, the Naha Bureau of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, the Japanese government agency in charge of the construction project, Monday informed the Okinawa prefectural government that a major platform at the site, set up in November, already has damaged corals at more than 30 locations. In a statement, DFAA said 27 corals were damaged, four completely disappeared and four were chipped away by the platform footing when it was set up, then temporarily removed in December due to a typhoon.

The U.S. and Japanese governments agreed in 1996 to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the heart of heavily populated Ginowan City, after moving its operations elsewhere on Okinawa. Japan and the United States agreed to relocate the airport to reclaimed land and a reef about 2 miles off the coast by Henoko, and to allow the airport to be used by civilian aircraft.

The plan drew sharp criticism from local residents and anti-military activists. Residents and their supporters have staged a sit-in at the Henoko fishing port since April. Protesters started to surround the platform by boats and canoes, climbing it in an attempt to deter a pre-construction survey. A 64-year-old woman from Ginowan held a 20-day hunger strike in front of the DFAA in Naha.

“We will fight till the day when the government gives up the project,” said Yoko Yamaguchi, who staged the hunger strike and also has joined the lawsuit. She said she was hospitalized briefly after she ended her protest Dec. 19.

“My hunger strike might not mean anything to the bureau officials but I know at least it helped to encourage people protesting out there in Henoko,” she said. “This lawsuit is a symbol of the will of majority of the people who determined not to accept any new military base. We will mobilize every possible means to make the government withdraw the plan.”

Takuma Higashionna of the Dugong Network said he hoped the litigation would lead to the national government disclosing more detailed information on the project.

“For instance, they would never release the reason why drilling surveys at as many as 63 locations are necessary,” he said. “Merely setting up platforms caused such damage to corals.

“Once corals are damaged, it would ruin feeding grounds of dugongs and eventually kill all the dugongs,” Higashionna said. “We want the government to immediately halt the survey and construction.”

In a statement Monday, the DFAA declined comment, saying it has yet to receive a copy of the lawsuit.

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