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Ginowan mayor seeks allies in America

Date Posted: 2008-07-31

The mayor of Ginowan City is in Hawaii, trying to find people who will listen and support his efforts to stop aircraft from flying from Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in his city.

Yoichi Iha arrived in Hawaii Sunday to deliver his message that “America is violating the law” by flying from Futenma, which he says violates U.S. law because flights are prohibited over schools and housing areas. Iha refers to a law that sets parameters for how close runways can be to populated areas. In Futenma’s case, says Iha, “The Futenma Air Station’s master plan says the runway must be 914.4 meters away” but says there are “800 houses and schools and 18 other facilities totaling 3,600 people” in the restricted zone.

The mayor accuses “Japanese and American governments have hidden these facts and operated this way since 1992. It’s against the law and both countries should take responsibility.” The problem Iha faces is that nobody in Hawaii wants to listen. Iha has visited the United States before, carrying the message America should reduce the military burden on Okinawa, but now, his thinking is different.

He wants Futenma Marine Corps Air Station gone, and has insisted key military leaders in Hawaii meet with him. They’ve refused, and the American Consul General in Okinawa, Kevin Maher, refuses to get into the middle, saying “we can’t control the off base building problems in Japan. That should be discussed between countries.”

The commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, and the commander of U.S. Marine Forces Pacific, Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, have both turned down requests from Iha for meetings. An Okinawa newspaper quotes the military as telling the Japanese government’s Okinawa liaison office that the meetings are impossible because of conflicting schedules. Iha’s next move is to try for meetings with congressional leaders.

“If nobody wants to meet with me,” Iha says, “I’m going to appeal this problem straight to the Pentagon and the Congress in Washington.” He says he’ll also lobby Japanese Diet members to support him, adding “I’m not going to give up over this problem.”

The Governor of Okinawa, meanwhile, is rejecting the Prefecture Assembly’s call for suspension of Futenma relocation plans. The opposition-controlled Assembly wants the project terminated, but Hirokazu Nakaima says he’ll continue supporting the Henoko plan. Northern Okinawa’s Henoko area and Camp Schwab, part of Nago City’s jurisdiction, is the site selected for a replacement airbase. Nakaima is saying he has a “tacit agreement” with the central government to move the V-shape runways a bit farther offshore, 80 meters farther into Oura Bay, to make the project acceptable to local government.

Nakaima’s comments have stirred political leaders of both parties, because the changes to the proposed airfield are not consistent with American military plans. The governor and his staff, along with the Okinawa Prefecture Council on Futenma Relocation, met July 18th with central government officials to discuss proposed changes. The meeting, attendees say, focused on how to develop a safe new airport using proposed modifications to construction plans.

“My understanding is that the two work teams will be able to advance discussions as the government tacitly agrees” to the Prefecture-promoted changes, says Nakaima. The U.S. has adamantly refused to consider changes to the agreement made to build the new airfield more than two years ago. At the American Consulate in Naha City, Consul General Kevin Maher calls construction at Henoko “a realistic option” and reminded reporters the “Futenma relocation will enable a reduction in Okinawa’s burden by moving 8,000 Marines to Guam while returning or reducing American military facilities here.”

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