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Relocating USMC base to Okinawafs Shimoji-jima cannot be accepted

When Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirobumi inspected airports from the air on Shimoji-jima and Ie-jima islands in Okinawa Prefecture on January 10, he saw flags fluttering expressing opposition to his inspection of potential candidate sites as a replacement for the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station within Okinawa.

Hiranofs inspection took place following the statement late last year made by Ozawa Ichiro, Democratic Party secretary general, who referred to these islands as possible erelocationf sites for the USMC Futenma base in Ginowan City.

In talks with Okinawan Governor Nakaima Hirokazu on January 9, Hirano hinted at the relocation of the base within the prefecture and that the governor would be urged to make a decision in a reasonable time of period.

Located in the East China Sea about 300 kilometers south-west from the Okinawa main island, Shimoji-jima Island (about 9.54 square kilometers, an outlier of Miyako-jima Island, both belong to Miyako-jima City) has a civilian airport with a 3,000-meter runway.

While Hirano was flying ovehead, islanders were holding posters and banners reading, gNo to the military use of Shimoji Airport by U.S. Marines!h

A woman harvesting herbs in her garden stated, gI cannot continue to make a living if the Marines come to this island.h

A 62-year-old representative of the Association of Miyako-jima people against military use of the Shimoji Airport, stated, gRelocation is not the answer to settling the Futenma base issue. We reject the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty that allows the presence of U.S. military bases on Okinawa.h

Shimoji Airport started its operation in 1979, as an airport exclusively for the training of civilian pilots. In 1971 and 1979, agreements to this effect were reached between the central government and Okinawafs governors.

In 2005 when the then Irabu Town (now Miyako-jima City) Assembly resolved to invite the Self-Defense Forcesf unit to the island, the invitation was quickly withdrawn in March of that year in the face of townspeoplefs strong opposition.

The U.S. Marine Corps began using the civilian airport in 2001 as a stopover airport during their military training exercises with helicopters and mid-air refueling aircraft to and from Futenma and the Philippines.

Also, the U.S. Rand Corporation, a think tank to the U.S. government, in May 2001 issued a proposal calling for the military use of Shimoji-jima and Ie-jima islands, and in 2004 the Japanese government was requested by the American military to allow temporary access to Shimoji Airport until an alternative airport to the Futenma air base is completed.

Both the assemblies of Miyakojima City and Ie Village are expected to soon pass unanimous resolutions in protest against the plan to allow for the military use of the airports.

- Akahata, January 11, 2010

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