05:05 GMT05 April 2020
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    Oscar-winning Japanese film director has become one of the principal backers of the Henoko Fund, set up to finance opposition to the relocation of the US military base in the Okinawa islands.

    The Henoko Fund, aimed at preventing the US military from building a new military base on the island of Okinawa, gained a new high-profile backer this week, as film director Hayao Miyazaki joined the battle to prevent the US military from building the base at Henoko, part of the government's plan to move the Futenma facility from its current location in the urban area of Ginowan.

    "I felt that I have a responsibility to support the people of Okinawa, if they themselves want to do that [oppose the base]," said Miyazaki, commenting on his move to contribute to the opposition to the Henoko relocation plan, which is supported by the Japanese and US governments.

    The Henoko Fund was set up in April to collect donations from across the country to stop the relocation of the base, which is fiercely opposed by local residents, who object to the heavy burden of US military installations and personnel carried by Okinawa, where US forces are unpopular due to the risk of crime posed by the troops stationed at the bases.

    "It’s important to convey our message directly and indirectly to the U.S. government and the American people," said local business leaders and political leaders at a press conference in the Okinawan town of Naha last month, announcing the establishment of the fund.

    Part of the fund's mission is to finance the publishing of adverts in newspapers in Japan and the US expressing the arguments of Okinawans who want to end completely the US military presence on the islands, which are home to more than half the 50,000 US Forces Japan, and two thirds of its military bases.

    More than 5000 organizations and individuals have already made donations to the fund, which in one month has gathered more than 185 million yen [$1.55 million] in donations. 

    According to a 2012 poll by the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper, 90 of Okinawans and more than 60 percent of those in the main islands of Japan call for the relocation of the base outside Okinawa, or Japan. 

    The closing of the base at Futenma and the construction of a facility in a new location 50 kilometers away was first planned in 1996, as a response to outrage after the gang-rape in 1995 of a 12 year-old-girl by US troops stationed at the base. The central government's plans to move the base have been repeatedly blocked by local residents due to the crime risk posed by US servicemen stationed there.

    In 2008, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice apologized for a series of crimes committed by US servicemen stationed at the base, including allegations of drink-driving, robbery and rape. In March, 2013, two US servicemen were sentenced by a court in Okinawa to ten and nine years each in prison for the rape and robbery of a woman in a parking lot.

    Despite public opposition, last week the US and Japanese government released a statement describing the plan to construct the replacement air base at Henoko as the "the only solution that addresses operational, political, financial, and strategic concerns and avoids the continued use of MCAS Futenma." 


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