Okinawa assembly to formally ask for Futenma base to move off the island

By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 25, 2010

NAHA, Okinawa — On the same day Japan’s prime minister said he needs to listen to the concerns of Okinawans over the Futenma Relocation project, Okinawa’s Prefectural Assembly passed a resolution asking him to move Marine Corps air operations off the island.

In a unanimous vote Wednesday, the assembly adopted a letter it will deliver to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and other officials in Tokyo. The written request calls Marine Corps Air Station Futenma “the most dangerous air base in the world.”

Their action comes amid a swirl of differing views on the relocation plan by Japan’s new left-center government, which is reviewing the U.S.-Japan 2006 realignment agreement that calls for building a new airstrip on Camp Schwab and Oura Bay landfill in rural northeast Okinawa.

Hatoyama has said he will decide by the end of May whether to proceed with the Camp Schwab plan or negotiate with the U.S. for an alternate site. Some administration officials, echoing statements from their counterparts in the U.S., have said the air operations need to remain on Okinawa for regional strategic and security reasons.

However, one minority member of Hatoyama’s coalition, the Social Democratic Party, has threatened to leave the coalition if the base operations remain on Okinawa.

Meanwhile, in response to news reports quoting anonymous sources that his government was already engaged in secret negotiations with the U.S. concerning the relocation project, Hatoyama told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday that he needs to seriously consider the wishes of the Okinawa people.

“If we are to settle everything by the end of May, the negotiations with and efforts to gain understanding from the people of Okinawa and the United States need to get under way basically at about the same time,” he said, according to Kyodo News.

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