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Ending six months of silence over the issue of a sea-based heliport off the coast of Camp Schwab in Okinawa Prefecture, Gov. Masahide Ota on July 29 planted his foot on the side of the national government.

During a 40-minute meeting, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto urged the governor to cooperate with the central government for the successful relocation of the heliport from the U.S. Marine’s Futenma Air Station, arguing that the offshore site would prevent possible accidents around the air station, which sits in the middle of the city of Ginowan. Ota replied that although the prefectural government is in a difficult and sensitive position, the local government should do what it can to prevent accidents.

The final report by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa, a bilateral panel on U.S. military bases in Okinawa, recommended in December that a sea-based facility be built for the heliport. The government envisages constructing the facility off Camp Schwab, located in the city of Nago.

In maintaining his silence, Ota had said the issue was between the central government and Nago and that the prefectural government should not take a position. On the same day, Cabinet members requested that Ota further study a proposal to turn the island prefecture into a free-trade zone and to remove all import tariffs.

During a government panel meeting on policies related to Okinawa, Ota explained that a prefectural government advisory body had recommended to him earlier this month that he push the free-trade-zone plan. The proposal said that the plan should be implemented by 2001 before other Asia-Pacific nations carry out similar plans.

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