• Kyodo

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Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine reiterated on Monday his request that the central government proceed with the relocation and reduction of U.S. bases in his prefecture.

Meeting with Koji Omi, the state minister for Okinawa affairs, Inamine said, “It is necessary (for the central government) to implement bilateral agreements of the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee on Okinawa and proceed with gradual relocation and reduction of U.S. bases in order to promote the use of returned land smoothly.”

Omi, visiting Okinawa for the first time since he became state minister April 26, repeated the previous government position.

“We want to deal with the matter with an eye to implementing the SACO agreements, as Okinawa accounts for 75 percent of (the Japanese soil used for) U.S. military facilities and local residents suffer from the burden.”

The issue of a 15-year limit on the U.S. military’s use of an airport to be built in Nago, northern Okinawa, was not raised during the talks. , the officials said.

The planned airport is expected to support U.S. Marine Corps helicopter operations now at Futenma Air Station.

The United States agreed with Japan in 1996 to return the Futenma base in five to seven years on condition that the helicopter operations are relocated within the prefecture. However, the U.S. has rejected Okinawa’s time-limit proposal.

Inamine also called on the government to compensate former Hansen’s disease patients who stayed in a sanitarium in the prefecture before it was returned to Japan from the U.S. in 1972 as well as those who left the facility before 1960, the officials said.

Omi was quoted as replying, “We will do our best to deal the same way with those who are involved in trials and those who are not, including the cases before (Okinawa’s) return to Japan.”

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