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Okinawa row over US military base lands in court

A long-running spat over relocating a US military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa has landed in court. Tokyo is attempting to force local authorities to proceed with the relocation, which poses a safety concern.

A regional court case began on Wednesday in Naha, Japan, that sees the Japanese government attempting to force local officials on Okinawa to drop their opposition to the relocation of an American air base on the island.

Leading the fight against the base's relocation is Okinawa's governor, Takeshi Onaga, who believes his island shoulders a disproportionate amount of the load when it comes to hosting US military institutions on Japanese soil. Around 75 percent of the US military's physical footprint in Japan is on Okinawa, but the island consists of less than 1 percent of Japan's total area.

"Okinawa has never voluntarily provided property (for US bases)," Onaga said in court on Wednesday according to reports in Japanese media. "The central government is attempting to force through construction. That's no different from the time under US military occupation."

Plans to relocate the US Marine Air Station Futenma have been in the mix since 1996. The base is currently located in a densely populated area, which has been a safety concern for decades due to the proximity of an airfield near homes, schools and a hospital. A proposal to move the base to a more remote part of the island has been marred by setbacks since it was first announced.

The government in Tokyo has made clear its intention to proceed with the base's relocation. Its lawyers have argued that Onaga's decision in October to rescind construction permits was illegal as it left the safety risk unsolved and harmed US-Japanese ties.

The United States has had a military presence on Okinawa since the end of World War II, when the island saw fierce battles between American and Japanese troops. The Futenma base is home to more than half of the 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan.

mz/sms (AP, AFP)

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