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Futenma solution closer as two governments agree on relocation

Date Posted: 2005-10-13

An American proposal to build a replacement airfield for the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan appears close to reality.

A months-long deadlock between US and Japanese negotiators over where to build the new airbase shifted off dead center this week, spurred in part by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s decision not to visit Japan during his upcoming Asia visit.

Japanese officials had hoped Rumsfeld would make a stop at one of the American installations either on mainland Japan, or on Okinawa. Rumsfeld opted not to, and observers suggested it was because the U.S. was unhappy with the country’s refusal to consider the new airbase plan favored by American military leaders.

The U.S. advocates building the new 1,500 meters long airstrip in the same Henoko vicinity as the stalled plan, but extended less into the shallow reefs of the bay. The original Henoko proposal called for a joint civilian-military airfield with a 2,500 meters runway capable of handling all jet aircraft. The American plan is more conservative.

The Japanese wanted the new airfield built entirely on land, and within the Camp Schwab. The U.S. team nixed that idea, citing fears it would draw opposition from already irate local citizens. They say an airfield at the Marine Corps base would also impede training operations.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is to discuss the airfield plan with his Foreign Minister, Nobutaka Machimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda and Defense Agency Director Genral Yoshinori Ono within the next few days.

With exception of the location, the two sides have agreed for weeks to move toward a new, scaled down airfield in order to expedite Futenma’s closure. The new plan would have an operational airport within five years, slashing ten years off the original construction plan. Futenma, located in the heart of Ginowan City, is surrounded by more than 150,000 residents and businesses. Nearly 15 months ago it was the scene of a helicopter crash. Three Marine Corps helicopter crewmen were injured when the heavy lift chopper crashed just outside Futenma, onto the Okinawa International University Campus.

Nobody on the ground was injured.

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