CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Okinawan officials have filed protests over a U.S. Army live-fire training range on Camp Hansen, asking that the range be shut down immediately.

The plea to close Range 4 — which opponents say poses noise and safety concerns to nearby residential areas — was filed days after a July 19 rally was held in a park near Camp Hansen’s main gate. Protest organizers at the event said the crowd calling for the range’s closure was about 9,500 strong, but Marine officials now say the crowd size was closer to 2,000.

The protest was filed on July 20 and 21 with the U.S. ambassador to Japan, U.S. Forces Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura, Director General of the Self-Defense Force Yoshinori Ohno, Minister in Charge of Okinawa Yuriko Koike and Director-General of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency Shoei Yamanaka.

Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine — accompanied by Kin Mayor Tsuyoshi Gibu — filed another protest on July 25 to the government in Tokyo, including the prime minister’s office, MOFA and SDF.

According to a local media report, Machimura rejected the July 21 request that he ask the United States to stop the live-fire drills, saying the training was part of maintaining overall deterrence within the Japan-U.S. security agreement.

To appease the fears of local residents, the Japanese government announced in April that it would build another warfare training complex on Camp Hansen’s Range 16, farther away from the local community. Exactly when and where on the range the complex would be built was not yet determined. USFJ officials said earlier this month that they have agreed in principle to the relocation but have yet to make a formal agreement.

When asked about the issue at a news conference Monday, Koizumi said “I think we should transfer early,” according to Prime Minister’s Office Foreign Press Coordinator Yu Kameoka.

Kin town officials were shocked when they learned of plans to build the facility nearly two years ago, a spokesman for the municipal government said Monday.

In particular, “We were shocked to learn that shooting practice from a rappelling tower, which had never done before, was added,” he said.

According to an information paper Kin officials received from the Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau in 2003, weapons would be fired from the tower into a “shoot house” about 660 feet away.

“The military insisted the safety of the facility, saying that absorbent rubber was installed,” the municipal government spokesman said, “but what if a bullet hits on the ground before it reaches the shoot house?”

A USFJ spokeswoman did not confirm or deny that such training would take place when directly asked about it in an e-mail query Thursday, stating only: “The resumption of training at the replacement facility at Range 4 allows the US forces in Japan to conduct training essential to meet Japan-US Security Treaty obligations in a safe, effective and efficient manner.”

The USFJ spokeswoman said U.S. forces “will continue to conduct mission-essential training,” and the range in question is “essential for assuring that our forces receive the necessary training to meet our obligations to assist in the defense of Japan and to help provide stability in the region."

Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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