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Tension mounts as Prefecture rejects Ministry assessment letter

Date Posted: 2007-08-09

Week-old pledges to 'work together' fell by the wayside Monday as Okinawa Prefecture announced it will not agree to the Ministry of Self Defense assessment letter needed to pave the way for construction of a new airfield in northern Okinawa.

The Prefecture's vice governor surprised the media Monday, saying "we will suspend judgment until Governor Hirokazu Nakaima's conditions have been accepted". Zenki Nakazato said that until the government changes its position, "we can’t accept."

The announcement drew quick criticism from Self Defense Minister Yuriko Koike. “We can’t wait anymore,” she said. “There is a time limit now. We have an agreement between America and Japan that by 2014 we have to transfer the (Futenma Marine Corps) Air Station, and to do that, we have to proceed to construction by July 2009,” Koike declared. “We have to proceed.”

The two sides had promised only days ago to work closely to bridge differences over the project, which calls for an airfield to be constructed on Camp Schwab. That airfield would have two V-shaped runways, and would pave the way for moving Futenma from Ginowan City. The Ministry of Self Defense had proceeded with the assessment letter, only to have it rejected by the Prefecture.

She had invited to Minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, Sanae Takaichi, to visit the Prime Minister’s residence to receive explanations. Koike says “we did consider the Okinawan people’s opinions, and we did expand our assessment to make safety a priority for construction. That should have been alright with them.”

Okinawa insists the government still doesn’t take into consideration local concerns, and promised to send a letter to the Self Defense Ministry putting its opinions in place once more. A Prefecture official says the Governor is not going to give in on the issue. A Self Defense Ministry spokesman says that by law, the assessment letter will take effect if the governor does not respond.

Koike has again called for meetings on the matter, telling Nakaima “let’s meet and talk about the Futenma Air Station Transfer Step Council.” The Prefecture, along with Nago City and Ginoza Village, say “we won’t attend the meeting without their changing the contents of the assessment letter.” A spokesman adds “This letter talks about transfer construction and inspection of the environment, reclaimed land at the construction site, about concrete factories and concrete to be used in building, and talks about the two V-shape 1,600 meter long runways.”

The Self Defense Ministry’s efforts to deliver its assessment letter to the Prefecture have been rebuffed. The Prefecture refuses to accept it until the government agrees to listen to local conditions.

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