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Officials Contemplate Position Change On Futenma 15-Year Limit Demands

Date Posted: 2004-03-19

Demands that the proposed new airport to replace the U.S. Marine Corps facility at Futenma Air Station on Okinawa be limited to 15 years may be slipping away.

American experts from George Washington University are voicing support for the government relocation plan, which would move the controversial base from Ginowan in the heart of populated Okinawa, to a site near Nago in the northern part of the island. That site would be close to Camp Schwab.

Japanese officials, including some political leaders, are now suggesting the new airfield be built without any time limits on American military use of the facility.

Akikazu Hashimoto, professor at National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, and Kurayoshi Takara, a former member of Governor Kenichi Inamineís advisory board and professor of history at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, are proposing the new airport be built without references to how long Americans can use it. Nagoís mayor is reportedly leaning in the same direction.

The Okinawa government has demanded a 15-year limit on the military's use of the new facility, something the U.S. Government has repeatedly ignored as a condition for its construction. Experts say there are still other options that havenít been explored, including one being promoted by Kazuhisa Ogawa, a military specialist.

He thinks relocating the airport to a land site within Camp Hansen, south of Camp Schwab, makes sense.

Hashimoto and Takara are not calling for any use limits, and havenít endorsed the earlier 15-year limit. They say plans for the new facility, including how it should be used, should be reviewed every five years. Construction, once the bickering ends, is projected to take more than a dozen years.

Advocates of the new base say that if itís no longer needed after its completion -- or relocation to another area becomes possible -- the planned facility shift to a role as a civilian regional airport that the military could use in the event of emergencies.

The Futenma relocation issue has been at issue since the Japanese and U.S. governments reached an agreement in 1996.

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