Okinawa leaders urge Abe to remove Osprey

Kyodo

About 30 municipal heads in Okinawa urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to rescind the government’s approval of the MV-22 Osprey deployment at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The chiefs, including Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga and Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, handed the prime minister a petition against the odd-looking transport aircraft signed by the heads of all 41 municipalities in Okinawa. It also called on the government to drop the stalled bilateral plan to build an airstrip in Nago to replace the Futenma base.

Abe told the representatives at his office that his government will “comprehensively” consider ways to alleviate the concentration of bases in the prefecture with regard to the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

The meeting lasted only four minutes, with Abe making no specific comments on the Ospreys or the Futenma relocation plan.

Onaga told reporters later it was significant that Abe had met the municipal heads, and expressed hope that the central government will “demonstrate its sincerity” and work out measures to lighten the load on Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases.

The U.S. deployed 12 of the MV-22 tilt-rotor Ospreys to Futenma last October despite strong local concern over its safety record.

The municipal chiefs also called for the cancellation of a U.S. plan to deploy 12 more Ospreys at the Futenma facility this summer and the CV-22 variant at the U.S. Air Force’s nearby Kadena base.

The local government heads said in the petition that the deployment of the accident-prone Osprey signifies “nothing but discrimination against the people of Okinawa” and “calls into question Japan’s status as a nation governed by its people,” since U.S. forces still treat Okinawa as if it were land they still occupy even 40 years after its return to Japan.

Okinawa spent 27 years under U.S. military rule after the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, before its reversion to Japan in 1972.

After receiving a petition, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told Masaharu Kina, chairman of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, and others that he will heed the opinions of its leaders.