Protesters to allow archaeological survey at Camp Schwab
HENOKO, Okinawa — Anti-base activists and Nago city officials have reached an understanding over a Camp Schwab archaeological survey that’s the first step in a plan to move Marine air operations to northeastern Okinawa.
The protest group announced Wednesday it will not try to block access to the base by city workers as long as their demands for an “open” survey of cultural assests on the base are considered.
“Our demands are to make the survey open to the public and to have the survey conducted under the initiative of Nago City Board of Education, not the Defense Facilities Administration Agency,” said Sakae Toyama, 66, a local leader of the Peace Citizens’ Network.
The Board of Education is in charge of cultural assets for the city of Nago.
Members of the anti-base coalition met Wednesday with board chairman Susumu Inamine.
“We appreciate their understanding,” Inamine said.
The board of education will coordinate with Defense Facilities Administration Bureau to decide when to resume the survey.
Toyama said Japan’s DFAA is “hastily” pushing the survey through in order to begin construction of the new airfield, which will cover the lower half of Camp Schwab on the Henoko peninsula. Planned to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, the airfield is scheduled for completion in 2014.
A DFAA spokesman has denied the survey is being rushed and said it is part of a broader, five-month process to establish a working master plan for the new airfield. A key part of that plan is to determine what cultural artifacts are on the base.
Last week, protesters twice prevented members of the Nago Board of Education's Cultural Asset Preservation Section from entering the Marine base to conduct the survey. The survey site is on a portion of the base sited for construction of new barracks to replace buildings that will have to be razed.
“The survey should be conducted under the same procedure as a normal archeological survey would be done in any other places,” Toyama said.
Japanese defense officials said the survey is required by law and would go on despite the protests.
Toyama said people from all over Japan have come to Okinawa to take part in the anti-base group’s campaign against moving Marine air operations to northeastern Okinawa. They claim any new base in the area would harm the feeding grounds of the rare dugong, a saltwater manatee that makes Okinawa waters its northernmost home.
The group staged a sit-in at the Henoko fishing port that began in April 2004 and successfully prevented an environmental survey of a site for the Futenma replacement facility planned for an area two miles offshore.
By the time the government gave up the offshore airport plan in 2005, thousands of people from all over Japan had taken part, he said.
The Marine Corps has not been involved in reacting to the protests. A spokesman said the Japanese government and local police have responsibility for controlling demonstrations outside the bases.
No arrests have been made so far, but local police are planning for the worst, said Hiroshi Oyakawa, deputy chief of the prefectural police’s Nago station.
“We are afraid that Henoko might become the second Narita,” he said. For about 30 years beginning in the 1960s, opponents of building Narita International Airport near Tokyo hindered construction and forced the government to scale back the project.
Oyakawa said the protesters were mostly outside agitators.
“Nago City accepted the project, and that is why the central government is going forward with it.”