Pacific News Minute: Okinawa Freezes Work on New US Airbase
A twenty year effort to relocate a US Marine airbase on the Japanese Island of Okinawa hit a new snag this week. The island's governor revoked a construction permit and, as we hear from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute, the result will likely be a court case that could take years to resolve.
Marine Air Station Futenma is located in the middle of what's now a major city on Okinawa, and long the site of protests over pollution, accidents and crime. Including one especially notorious case - the rape and abduction of a twelve year old by three US servicemen in 1995. Japan and the US reached an agreement to move the air base to a relatively unpopulated part of the island - but that too has been dogged by protests. The site is next to a sprawling US facility called Camp Schwab, on the pristine waters of Henoko Bay. Many protests centered on environmental issues - the bay is home to rare dugongs, marine mammals that are relatives of the manatee, and construction of runways out into the water would damage coral reefs. The underlying issue is that many on Okinawa resent their share of the American military presence. Okinawa makes up one percent of the country's land mass, but houses more than half the US military personnel, and three quarters of the American bases in Japan.
Governor Takeshi Onaga ran on a promise to stop the base. Now that he's done exactly that, the Defense Ministry promises to take him to court. But it's not clear whether construction will continue while the case remains undecided. Governor Onaga also appealed to Washington to stop construction; the Pentagon says it has an agreement with the government in Tokyo and that this is an internal matter for Japan.