03:43 GMT +320 October 2019
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    Okinawa Head Wants to Ease Burden on Population Rather Than Remove All US Bases

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    MOSCOW (Sputnik), Valentina Shvartsman - Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki told Sputnik in an interview that he was not seeking to completely remove US military bases from Japan's southernmost prefecture, but rather reduce a burden carried by the local population.

    "I am in the position to understand the need for the US-Japan security arrangements. I am not calling for the immediate and complete removal of US bases in Okinawa … If Japan's security is important, it should be considered by the Japanese nation as a whole," Tamaki said.

    The Okinawa governor stressed that it was "abnormal" that Okinawa, which accounted for only 0.6 percent of Japan's territory, hosted 70 percent of US military installations in the country.

    "US military bases are concentrated in Okinawa, and residents of the prefecture continue to carry the heavy burden of bases such as noise, incidents and mishaps. We believe that it is necessary to reduce this burden in a manner feasible for the prefecture’s residents," Tamaki noted.

    The governor also highlighted the Japan-US Status of Force Agreement (SOFA), which sets out the rights and privileges of US military personnel stationed in Japan, had become "inconsistent with the demands of the times and the needs of the Okinawa residents."

    "In order to solve various problems concerning US military bases it is not enough to improve operations by leaving it to the discretion of the US side, but a fundamental review of the status agreement is necessary," Tamaki said.

    The governor stressed that it was necessary to partially relocate US troops stationed in Okinawa outside Japan and return lands occupied by bases to Okinawa, as it was agreed by the Japanese and US governments in 2013.

    On Futenma Military Base

    Speaking further, the senior official said that he was considering a visit to the United States in order to convey the opposition of the prefecture's residents to the relocation of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma expressed in the latest referendum.

    "In order to deliver the opposition of the prefecture's residents to the construction of a new base in Henoko directly to the US government and citizens, I would like to consider a visit to the United States in the future," Tamaki said.

    READ MORE: Huge Explosion Reported at US Military Base in Okinawa

    The Okinawa governor stressed that his resolve to not allow the construction of a new base in Henoko "has not changed in the least."

    "I will continue to persistently urge the government to have a democratic attitude toward the issue by searching for a solution through dialogue, as well as call on the Japanese and US governments to relocate the Futenma Air Base outside the prefecture or outside the country and eliminate the danger it poses as soon as possible," Tamaki added.

    Denny Tamaki noted that the Prefecture has not yet received any official response from the United States regarding the referendum that showed local residents' opposition to the relocation of Futenma, but hopes that Washington will respect the vote's result.

    "Deputy Chief of Mission Young was to convey the results of the prefectural referendum to [US] Ambassador [William] Hagerty or his government. Up to this date, there has been no particular response, but I believe that the directly expressed opinion of citizens is of utmost importance, and that the results [of the referendum] will be respected in the United States that is called the motherland of democracy," he said.

    He added that during his meeting with Young he warned against rushing to the construction of a new base in Okinawa and suggested to invite the prefecture of the province to take part in the project discussions along with the Japanese and US governments.

    "The prefecture will continue to work with the citizens of the United States and will use different opportunities to appeal to the US government and congressmen to respect the will of the people of the prefecture voiced through a proper democratic procedure," Tamaki noted.

    READ MORE: US Base in Okinawa to Be Relocated Despite Referendum Results — Japanese PM Abe

    The politician noted that protests of local residents near the US Marine Corps' Camp Schwab, located next to the construction site in Henoko, were continuing.

    "I perceive this as manifestation of strong desire [of people] not to allow the construction of a new base in Henoko," Tamaki stressed.

    Futenma was named to be "the world's most dangerous base in the world" by then-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2003, who flew over the base and observed that it was right in the middle of an urban settlement surrounded by schools and houses. This is in direct violation to the US Department of the Navy's safety standards, which requires that any airbase runway must be clear of all construction other than airport lighting at each of its ends.

    The relocation of the base was first agreed upon by Japan and the United States in 1996 after a 12-year-old Okinawan girl was abducted and sexually assaulted by US servicemen. However, the plan stalled, partly due to concerns of local population that the project would disrupt the ecology of the region, and was reactivated in 2013 when then-Okinawan Governor Hirokazu Nakaima approved runway construction plans for the base in Henoko.

    Okinawan residents have long been protesting heavy US military presence, which entailed a long list of problems and inconveniences — from noise pollution to aviation mishaps and crimes committed by US servicemen.

    READ MORE: Japan to Promote Relocation of US Base in Okinawa Regardless of Referendum

    On February 24, Okinawa Prefecture held a non-binding referendum on the land reclamation work, which is necessary for relocation of the US air base from the prefecture's city of Ginowan to a less populated area, Henoko Bay. The referendum saw a 52 percent turnout. Over 72 percent of Okinawa residents that came to vote in the referendum cast their ballots against the plan.

    The plans to relocate the Futenma base sparked protests among tens of thousands of local residents demanding that the facility be removed from Okinawa completely, and not just moved to another location. One of protesters’ major concerns is damage to the unique ecosystem of Oura Bay near Henoko resulting from land reclamation.

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    governor, military base, Japan, Okinawa
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