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Politicians seek closure of MCAS Futenma

By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 5, 2003

GINOWAN, Okinawa — Members of Japan’s major opposition parties voted Tuesday to support Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha’s demand that Futenma Marine Corps Air Station be closed early.

Their resolution was passed at a symposium on the seventh anniversary of a U.S.-Japan plan to shrink by 21 percent the amount of land the U.S. military uses on Okinawa.

A key part of that 1996 plan was to close Futenma within seven years after a suitable replacement site could be found on Okinawa.

However, political maneuvering by former Gov. Masahide Ota, who adamantly opposed any new military construction, delayed the building of a new Marine airport at Henoko, next to Camp Schwab off Okinawa’s northeast shore.

Construction still may be years away, Defense Facilities Administration Agency officials have said. However, Iha has said he wants Futenma closed within five years, regardless of whether a new base is ready.

Elected in April on a platform opposing U.S. bases on Okinawa, Iha said he wants Marines to be moved to Hawaii or Guam.

Eight hundred people attended the symposium, hosted by Ginowan city. Panelists included major figures from the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party.

The country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, its coalition partner, boycotted the symposium. Both parties insist that Futenma, in the heart of urban Ginowan, be closed only after Marines are relocated to Henoko.

Okinawa Prefectural Government officials said “scheduling conflicts” prevented them from attending the symposium. The prefecture has said it supports plans for the Henoko base as long as commercial aircraft also can use the facility and military use ends after 15 years.

One critic called the symposium a waste of time.

“The main purpose ... was to draw public attention to the fact that the governments did not fulfill their promise to close and return Futenma air station within seven years,” said Mikio Shimoji. The former member of the legislature has recommended moving Marine air operations to Kadena Air Base, just a few miles up the road.

“But Mayor Iha’s demand to close the air station within five years has no grounds,” Shimoji said. “He just expects some great power somewhere else to solve the issue. He shows no concrete proposal of his own. It would be very difficult to achieve what he demands.”

Ryunosuke Megumi was more critical.

“It was all a part of an anti-U.S. campaign,” he said. “It was apparent that the panelists have a hostile view of the United States.

“There was no room for discussion. Their sole intent was to make an appeal [about] Okinawa’s ‘burden’ to the rest of the world in an attempt to paralyze the Marine Corps operation on Okinawa.”

In his opening remarks Monday, Iha said he welcomed Bush administration plans to shuffle military assets overseas.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “How many years must the people of Ginowan wait before they can be free of noise pollution from the air station and of worrying about a plane crash?”

Seiji Maehara, a DPJ member of Japan’s Diet, its legislature, said his party would make relocating the Marines part of the party’s platform.

For the Henoko facility “to take over the airport functions within the prefecture is not necessary and the DPJ will urge the United States to relocate the base overseas,” he said. “We will put that vow in our policy platform.”

— Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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