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Tokyo is ready to disburse 100 billion yen over the coming 10 years to boost the economy of northern Okinawa if the area accepts a new airport for the U.S. Marine Corps, the central government told Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine on Friday. For a start, the central government would allocate 10 billion yen in its fiscal 2000 budget, with half of the amount to be spent for public works projects, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said in a news conference. Meanwhile, Aoki pledged Tokyo’s efforts to enable commercial airlines to use the new facility jointly with the U.S. military — as demanded by Inamine. In a Tokyo meeting between Cabinet members and Okinawa officials earlier in the day, the central government also offered to conclude an agreement with the U.S. government regarding the use of the new airport. The agreement would stipulate flying routes and hours of U.S. military flights, and include arrangements as to the entrance to the facility by local municipalities, Aoki said. Aoki said the central government will take into serious consideration Inamine’s request that a similar agreement be made to cover other U.S. military facilities in the prefecture. The planned new airport is to host U.S. Marine Corps helicopter operations at Futenma Air Station in central Okinawa, which must be relocated by 2003 under a U.S.-Japan Special Action Committee on Okinawa agreement reached in 1996. Inamine last month picked the area near Camp Schwab in Nago as the site for the alternative airport. Nago Mayor Tateo Kishimoto is expected to announce whether he will accept the airport plan at the end of this month. Aoki said the Cabinet will immediately approve Friday’s central government proposals once the mayor makes a positive decision. “I had the impression that the (central) government is considering the matter seriously, and sincerely,” Inamine said after the morning meeting. “Now it’s all up to the mayor of Nago, and the people of Nago,” he said. Regarding Inamine’s election campaign pledge to limit the U.S. military’s use of the new airport to 15 years, Aoki maintained Tokyo will discuss the matter based on “various factors,” including the international situation. Aoki said, however, that another Inamine pledge — for the new airport to be for both military and commercial flights — will be considered separately from the time limit. The central government also proposed legislation to help revitalize the economy of northern Okinawa, as well as to promote utilization of land currently occupied by the Futenma facility once the site is vacated. Inamine welcomed the government’s economic development plan for Okinawa, saying it reflects requests made by the prefectural government. “I think (Okinawa’s requests) were studied seriously,” Inamine told reporters. The Japanese government wants to settle the issue by the July 2000 summit of the Group of Eight nations, which will be held in Nago.

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