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New mayor finds constituents disagree on bases perspective

Date Posted: 2006-05-05

They honeymoon for Mitsuko Tomon, who was elected Okinawa City mayor only two weeks ago, appears to already be over.

Tomon, who ran on the Democratic party of Japan ticket with support from the Communist and socialist parties, is outspokenly anti-military and anti-bases. Japanese government officials, and even the chairman of an Okinawa City Assembly committee think she’s wrong.

As bases are realigned and American troops moved, plans call for placing Japan Self Defense Forces into Kadena Air Base and Camp Hansen for training. Tomon is vigorously opposed.

Supporters says jointly locating the troops will lead to better trained troops.

Tsutomu Sato, Naha Self Defense District Captain, says the co-located forces “will be reforming training, environmental disasters, preparing rescue efforts and insuring exercises will be effectively accomplished.” Toumon says that’s not true, claiming “both governments are never thinking about Okinawa at all.” She says she “will never accept joint training.”

Okinawa City political and business leaders are already appealing for a more open stance. Morikatsu Kohana, Special Investigation Committee Chairman for the City Assembly, says “I want Tomon to take it a little easy. She needs to adopt a more flexible way, and not only say ‘no, no, no’. She needs to think carefully about our city’s natural environment, agricultural business and tourism.” Kohana reminds the new mayor that “tourists bring Okinawa City a lot of money.”

Tomon wants the bases — Kadena Air Base and Camp Foster -- gone from Okinawa City, and is showing no signs of compromise. Land owners whose property is leased by the government for U.S. bases, aren’t happy with her stance, because they want the rent to continue. If the bases are removed, the land is returned to them, and “no more money comes at all and just leaves us to grow weeds.”

Land owners say they’re afraid the land will lay dormant for 100 years and die. “We don’t want our land dying. We need money from the land, and that comes from the bases,” said one.

Tomon says she doesn’t know “what to do after the lands have been returned to land owners”. Land owners agree on that, and say farming is too difficult, and they don’t understand how the new mayor could institute land reform.

Many observers look to nearby Ameku District in Naha City, where it took 20 years for urban activity to get under way after the U.S. military returned lands to private control.

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