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The commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, did not appear in court Thursday for the first hearing on a lawsuit filed against him by local residents over “intolerable” noise from the base.

Col. Richard Leuking did not submit a written answer to the Naha District Court’s Okinawa branch.

The court informed the commander of the lawsuit by serving a public notification after he refused to accept a complaint served by the court via the postal system Feb. 25.

Tsutomu Arakaki, head of the plaintiffs’ legal team, told the court that, even if Japan has no jurisdiction over suits filed against the U.S. government, “We are holding (Leuking) accountable as an individual who committed illegal behavior.”

The suit was filed by 404 residents living near the Futenma Air Station in October 2002. They demand that Leuking and the Japanese government halt U.S. aircraft takeoffs and landings in the early morning and at night.

Until Thursday, only the portion of the lawsuit targeting the Japanese government had been heard.

The U.S. Marine Corps in Japan has said that the complaint should not be served to the commander as an individual because the issue is public. It has called for a resolution through diplomatic channels.

U.S. sticks by ’96 deal

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Wednesday that the United States is still committed to a 1996 accord with Japan on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.

“At present, we are still committed to a SACO agreement,” Armitage said after delivering a speech at a congressional hearing.

Armitage was referring to a report adopted in 1996 by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa for consolidation of U.S. bases in Okinawa.

The SACO report called for the return of the Futenma base site in Ginowan, central Okinawa, within five to seven years, after “adequate replacement facilities are completed and operational.”

Japan decided in 2002 to build a military-civilian airport on reclaimed land off the northern Okinawa city of Nago to take over the helicopter operations of the Futenma base. Work has yet to start.

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