With U.S. Marines' aircraft returning to Futenma from Iraq, people are again exposed to danger -- Akahata editorial, April 8, 2005

Twenty-two U.S. Marines Corps helicopters that participated in the Iraq War have returned to the U.S. Futenma Air Station in Ginowan City, Okinawa. The base that has 33 helicopters, as of April 7, will again expose local residents to potential dangers of crashes as well as roaring noise. If 20 other aircraft that are currently operating in Iraq return, it will make Futenma the world's most dangerous base, just as it was before.

Flight exercises over residential areas

The helicopter unit sent out from the Futenma base with 2,000 personnel of the 31st Marines Expedition Unit (31 MEU) killed many Iraqis and destroyed houses in Fallujah, Iraq. About 50 Marines were killed and 221 injured. The spokesman of the U.S. Marine Corps in Japan said, "We want these marines to be welcomed back as heroes." The remark offended Okinawans' sensibilities, for they are concerned about crimes committed by returned soldiers. They remember many horrible crimes committed by U.S. soldiers returning to Okinawa during the Vietnam War. Also, the remark by the foreign relation chief of the Marines, "Okinawa is the hometown of the 31st MEU," caused a public uproar.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Okinawa promptly announced that they will continue to carry out flight exercises necessary for training, not only shuttling between the Futenma air base and exercise fields in northern Okinawa, but also flying at low altitudes over the urban area of Ginowan City, regarded as a training airspace.

Citizens of Ginowan City, with a population of 80,000, are again forced to live with their lives at risk of U.S. helicopter crashes. The Okinawa Prefectural Government made representations to the U.S. forces and the central government, complaining, "It is impermissible to allow the Futenma base to increase the level of danger. Iha Yoichi, Ginowan city mayor, also protested, saying, "Bringing dangers of crashes to Okinawa is an outrageous act in complete disregard of the citizens."

The U.S. forces ordered the helicopter unit's return to Okinawa without fulfilling the promise they made to the Japanese government to the effect that it will take measures to prevent U.S. helicopter accidents.

The Japan-U.S. Joint Committee on the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement approved in February an investigation report on the August 2004 helicopter crash at Okinawa International University. The report was written by the committee's panel. It attributed the incident to imperfect assembly of parts. Even though the conclusion was inadequate, the report recommended that the U.S. and Japanese governments "reexamine helicopters' flight routes and study all means to ensure flight safety.

Thus, Futenma-based helicopters continue to fly over Ginowan, putting all citizens into the danger of accidents. It's no wonder that Ginowan citizens urge the U.S. to "not carry out flight training over the city." However, the Japanese government stated at the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on March 30 that no conclusion has been reached on the promise to "reexamine their flight courses." Such an attitude only encourages the U.S. to continue their dangerous flights.

We cannot allow both governments to break their own promise and take no effective steps against such a dangerous thing.

Withdraw the base

Last year's helicopter accident showed that Ginowan citizens are forced to live with fatal accidents. The rumor that Futenma's helicopters and mid-air refueling aircraft may be transferred to other bases in/outside of Okinawa will just help to diffuse the danger. Another idea of shifting the base control rights to the Self-Defense Forces, allowing the U.S. forces' contingency-use will also help perpetuate the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma air station.

It is imperative to dismantle the U.S. Futenma air base in response to Okinawans' demand. (end)

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