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Okinawa military move on hold

October 13, 2015

Plans to relocate a US military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa have hit another snag. The Okinawa governor has revoked approval needed for the move – a further contradiction to plans set in motion by Tokyo.

US Marine's Camp Futenma in Japan 14.11.2014
Image: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images

Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga announced on Tuesday that a locally-issued work approval for relocating a US military base contained "legal defects" and had been rescinded. The original approval was issued by his predecessor, and Onaga was elected after campaigning against a relocation of the base on the island. Many locals want to see the base moved off the island completely.

Government officials in Tokyo however see no change to the plans, which would see the base moved to a more remote part of the island. US Marine Air Station Futenma 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. The move was set in motion in 1996 but has been hampered by similar setbacks ever since.

Onaga contends that the base is a drain on the local economy.

"I will work to keep my promise not to allow another base in Henoko," Onaga said Tuesday, referring to the new location.

On Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said there was "no change in our plan to proceed with the work."

Land reclamation work had already begun over the summer at the new site but had been suspended to allow for talks with the Okinawan government on a compromise to issues it had raised. Work resumed last month, but has now stopped again with Onaga's move to remove approval. Japan's defense minister has said he would seek legal action to overturn Onaga's decision and continue with work as planned.

The US 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 troops stationed in Japan.

mz/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)