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U.S. to return five military facilities

Date Posted: 2012-04-27

It’s taken six years to press forward, but the latest review of the 2006 bilateral roadmap for realigning U.S. forces in Japan has resulted a timeline being set for return of five military facilities on Okinawa.

Officials say that most of the five facilities located in south-central Okinawa will be handed back to Japanese control even before the planned relocation of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to other destinations in Asia. Terms of the latest agreement reached during consultations between Washington and Japan have the five facilities and areas divided into 13 districts, with 11 of them being returned before Marines begin leaving.

Japanese funding of the relocation process will not be increased, officials note, even though some of those funds will be used to improve facilities on Tinian in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Funds have already been committed, though, under terms of the 2009 bilateral agreement. Tinian will become the site of joint Japan Self Defense Forces and American military exercises.

Under terms of the 2006 roadmap to realign the U.S. forces in Japan, the return of the five facilities and areas had been contingent on relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, now in Ginowan City, to the Henoko area of northern Okinawa’s Nago City and Guam. That changed with the latest round of discussions, with the two countries separating the return of the five facilities from the relocation process. Now, the two countries will begin the logistical steps of how to make it happen.

The designation of 13 districts carved from the five facilities and areas will be prioritized for return in three stages. Each of the facilities’ connection to Futenma will be a determining factor. Four districts, including the west Futenma district where Camp Zukeran is located, will be returned in the near future, while seven other districts will be returned on a timetable that has those functions being shifted to other military installations. The seven include many of the warehouse functions in the Makiminato zone of Urasoe City, known now as Camp Kinser.

The United States had insisted Japan spend additional money to improve the Tinian facilities, in addition to expenses for the relocation of the U.S. Marines to Guam, but Japanese government officials balked. The United States then backed down on the demand after Japanese agencies confirmed a commitment to improve Tinian facilities. The new agreements also reduce the total cost of transferring Marines to Guam downward from $10.27 billion to $8.7 billion, although specific numbers haven’t been codified in the bilateral interim report, which simply states the number of Marines being relocated would be “about 9,000”.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba says he expects some of the lands to be handed over soon. "We will be able to obtain some results" before Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's visit to Washington this week,” adding "I personally think that the results will be roughly in line with what I first thought."

The number of Marines heading to Guam from Okinawa has been cut to 4,200 from 8,000, with the remainder transferring to Australia, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.

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