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Japan rebuffs another proposed base change

Date Posted: 2006-11-25

The American military has asked for another change to the replacement airfield facility slated for Camp Schwab, and the Japanese government isn’t buying.

The U.S. has now decided it isn’t safe to build new barracks at Camp Schwab, and wants to move the new construction to nearby Camp Hansen in northern Okinawa. Officials told the Japanese governments building the new barracks at Camp Schwab would place them too close to the flight line and runways. Existing Camp Schwab barracks are to be demolished to make room for the two new 1,800 meters long runways.

Japan has rejected the proposal, which would have allowed new construction at Camp Hansen at near Henoko Ammunition Storage Site. The idea had been discussed before, but Tokyo doesn’t see a need to change the agreement signed last Spring. It’s the latest in a series of seemingly minor, yet treated as major, glitches to the agreement. Earlier this month reports surfaced the U.S. wanted to put runway approach lights at both ends of the two runways, something not clearly spelled out in the agreement.

Japan’s initial reaction to the plan was negative, but has since modified its stance. The Defense Facilities Administration Agency now says it’s okay, because the second end of each runway would only be used for emergencies. Iwao Kitahara, the DFAA director general, says he never spelled out the possibility of two-way flights during his discussions with local Nago City and Ginoza Village officials. Still, he says, “since we’re talking emergency landings, they will be given priority in case human life is at stake.”

The Henoko airport plan specifies all take offs and landings will be over water. Flight rules specify distances from residential areas, as well as angles of houses or building heights near flight operations areas. The military typically is excluded from Japanese standard laws.

Director General Fumio Kyuma of the Japan Defense Agency says it will be okay, for limited use in emergencies. A member of the Diet, Seiken Akamine of the Communist Party, slammed the government posture, saying he considers “an emergency case in Okinawa means ‘anytime’ for the American military.”

The Americans are still pressing for the changes, which would permit the barracks to be relocated and built. They would use older facilities at Camps Schwab and Hansen in the interim.

A Japanese official says “this is too sudden. They can’t change what we agreed upon before. It means moving not only people, but reassigning building uses.” He says that would impact upon nearby towns and their residents, and could change their lifestyle.

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