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Miyako-Irabu Island rift centers on airbase shift

Date Posted: 2005-03-25

A plan to consolidate Miyako and Irabu Island governments into a single municipality to save money is now on the rocks.

Irabu Town Assembly members have dumped the previously approved plan, which was designed to save money in the wake of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Trinity Plan, which calls for local governments to assume many responsibilities long under the national government’s wing.

A proposal for converting Shimoji Island’s airport into a new military airbase is at the heart of the dispute. Shimoji’s airfield has long been used by Japanese airlines as a training base for their pilots. Now, Irabu Town officials say “Let’s bring the American military base here, or the Japanese Self Defense Force.”

Irabu’s Assembly sees big money for its community if a military base becomes reality. They also foresee the ability to be independent and self sustaining, without the need for merging with Miyako.

The Assembly met this week and reversed the earlier approved consolidation plan, opting to go it alone. “We need to invite our Self Defense Force here to Shimoji Island. Otherwise, we can’t pay salaries to all our civil servants,” said one leader. “We need money. Irabu Town’s mayor wants to cut staffing, but we don’t want to fire people. We need jobs, and we need money.”

Miyako has reacted angrily. “What? Are you out of your minds. You guys must be crazy,” said one Miyako Assembly official. Irabu Town residents don’t agree. Over the weekend they staged a demonstration demanding approval of a plan to invite the Americans, or Japanese, to make Shimoji Island their new home base. Other city, town and village people are lobbying that changes be made.

Miyako and Irabu Town were to merge into a new entity, Miyako Jima City, as part of the Trinity Reform Plan. It would also have encompassed several other smaller villages and towns.

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