Ginowan mayor's request for closure of U.S. Marine Corps base in Okinawa

The following are the main points Iha Yoichi, mayor of Ginowan, Okinawa, made in a sttement he sent to U.S. Congress requesting that the United States fulfill the promise it made in 1996 to close the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station.

Purpose of statement

Given the fact that the U.S. and Japanese government eight years ago agreed on the return of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station site to Japan, I request that the Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structure of the United States recommend that the U.S. Government to close the air station immediately.

The Futenma Air Station is located in the very center of Ginowan City, Okinawa. Daily touch-and-go training by U.S. Marine helicopters, transport and other aircraft from the Futenma Air Station are conducted more than 200 times a day causing unbearable noise and disturbing Ginowan citizens' daily lives.

U.S. military helicopters based at the Futenma base have been involved in many crashes in Okinawa, including 15 cases killing 43 U.S. military personnel - some of these bodies have not been recovered yet - and injuring another 14. On August 3, a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53D transport helicopter crashed at the main administration building of Okinawa International University adjacent to the Futenma base and exploded in flames. This was the worst helicopter crash ever in Okinawa.

To fulfill my responsibility as Ginowan mayor to protect the lives and properties of Ginowan citizens, I strongly demand that the Futenma Air Station be closed.

The U.S. bases in Okinawa were constructed on local private land expropriated by U.S. occupation forces during the Battle of Okinawa toward the end of World War II. From these bases, U.S. troops were deployed to the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War, forcing Okinawans to take on a heavy burden for a long period of time. Although Okinawa was reverted to Japan 32 years ago, the Japanese Government, ignoring the will of Okinawans, has allowed U.S. forces to stay in Okinawa.

Accidents and incidents resulting from the U.S. military presence in Okinawa have repeatedly caused problems between U.S. forces and local citizens. In order to reduce these problems, I strongly demand that the U.S. bases here, in particular the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Unit, be removed from Okinawa as part of the on-going U.S. military transformation.

Why I demand the closure of Futenma

(1) Following a gang rape by three U.S. Marines in September 1995, which ignited anti-U.S. base sentiment among Okinawans, the U.S. and Japanese Governments established the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) to reduce the burden carried by Okinawans in an attempt to alleviate the growing indignation of Okinawans. The SACO in December 1996 released the final report stating that 10 out of 11 facilities would be relocated to alternative facilities within Okinawa. Only one facility has been returned.

The plan agreed upon by the Japanese and U.S. Governments to relocate the Futenma base to offshore of Nago City in northern Okinawa roused strong opposition from the local residents. In a referendum in late 1997, a great majority of Nago citizens rejected the construction plan. After the election of Keiichi INAMINE as Okinawa governor in 1998, be decided to construct the base near the Henoko district of Nago City.

Under the plan, it will take at least 16 years to complete the new base. If the U.S. and Japanese governments stick to this plan, the return of the Futenma base site will only come 24 years after the SACO agreement. I am convinced that the plan to relocate the Futenma facility to off the Henoko district of Nago will never be realized.

(2) Most of Ginowan City is designated as "urban development areas" and there is no buffer zone between the heavily populated areas and the Futenma base. All flights in and out of Futenma Air Station have produced intolerable noise. Recently, a helicopter squadron has conducted intense training for ground attacks to support amphibious operations, reconnaissance and aerial refueling. In conjunction with this training, the frequency of flights from Futenma has greatly increased and their flights routes have been extended to urban and residential areas, causing serious problems to local residents.

I am aware that the return of the Futenma Air Station site is an issue to be dealt with by the U.S. and Japanese governments. However, in an effort to protect the citizens' lives and redevelop the city in an expeditious manner, Ginowan City continues actively to request the early return of the facility.

Ginowan City established the Futenma Air Station Return Action Program, a roadmap to the prompt return of Futenma, with the aim of realizing our goal by 2008. We are asking both the Japanese and U.S. governments to consider dispersing the functions and units of the Futenma Air Station to the United States, including Hawaii, instead of relocating it to the sea off the Henoko district of Nago as under the current plan.

A Japanese newspaper released the result of an opinion poll regarding the U.S. bases in Okinawa in September 2004. The survey found that 81 percent of respondents were opposed to the current Futenma relocation plan. Only six percent were in favor of it.

Why I request that U.S. consider including its forces in Okinawa in the transformation plan

The U.S. forces occupy about 30 to 60 percent of the total land area of Okinawa's ten municipalities, including Ginowan. Both the United States and Japan have kept on placing the burden of the huge portion of the bases in Okinawa (three-fourths of the U.S. bases in Japan) that accounts for only 0.6 percent of the total land area of Japan. It is clear that Okinawa has been forced to endure this bizarre and unacceptable situation.

The U.S. forces in Okinawa have caused not only aircraft accidents but also various crimes and accidents against local residents. Felonies, including murders, rapes, and robberies, have been committed by U.S. military personnel causing enormous problems regarding safety in municipalities that host U.S. bases.

Knowing that the main task of the Commission on Review of Overseas Military Facility Structure of the United States is to consider the military budget, including the running cost of U.S. overseas military facilities with the review of he overseas bases, I request the chairman and the members of the Commission to look at the dangerous situation facing the Ginowan citizens every day and to determine what the U.S. should do to eliminate the danger caused by the USMC Futenma Air Station. (end)

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