Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter agreed to hold the ceremonial returning of about half of the US military training grounds in the prefecture of Okinawa to Japan on December 22, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
TOKYO (Sputnik) — The United States agreed to return half of the training area in 1996 in exchange for the permission to build and operate six helipads on the US half of the territory.
"On the issue of the Northern Training Area that has been contentious for the past 20 years, both sides agreed to put maximum effort into returning [to Okinawa] of 4,000 hectares [about 9,888 acres] on December 22," the ministry's statement said.
In 2007, the United States built the first two helipads, but had to stop because of the protests from local residents. The resumption of the construction this summer led to the renewal of the protests.
Many of the local residents were worried about the use of the controversial Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft by the US military. Since 2007, the Osprey has had three crashes and a number of accidents and are seen as unsafe by many local residents.