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The government has decided to continue its policy of promoting economic development in northern Okinawa in fiscal 2007 as part of efforts to facilitate a smooth relocation of the Futenma air base within the prefecture, government sources said Sunday.

The move reverses a Cabinet decision in May to discontinue the policy at the end of the current fiscal year.

The central government changed its mind after determining that continuing the promotion policy would help advance talks with local officials over the relocation plan, considering that Okinawa Gov.-elect Hirokazu Nakaima has shown some flexibility.

Nakaima, elected last month to succeed Keiichi Inamine, has said relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station within the prefecture is inevitable and expressed willingness to discuss the matter with the national government.

But Nakaima is opposed to the current plan agreed to by the Japanese and U.S. governments to build V-shaped runways on existing land and new landfill at the Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab in Nago.

The relocation of Futenma, currently located in a densely populated area in Ginowan, is one of the major issues among the plans for U.S. military realignment in Japan, which calls for moving 8,000 of the 18,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

In addition to the northern Okinawa promotion policy, the government plans to submit to the Diet next year a bill aimed at expanding subsidies to local governments affected by the U.S. military realignment.

It is hoping the two economic measures will make it possible to gain approval in Okinawa for the Futenma relocation.

Nakaima, supported by the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition, won a close race over base opponent Keiko Itokazu. His campaign mainly focused on economic development.

The government has implemented the promotion policy for northern Okinawa since fiscal 2000 under a project to provide 100 billion yen in 10 years to Nago and 11 other municipalities for social infrastructure development.

The policy was decided on the pretext of closing the economic disparities with the central and southern parts of Okinawa, but it is widely seen as a reward for accepting U.S. bases.

The Cabinet decided in May to stop the policy due to opposition within the government, mainly by the Defense Agency, to continuing such assistance while the Futenma relocation plan remained at a standstill.

Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 that the Futenma site would be returned to Japan in several years on condition that an alternative facility be built elsewhere in Okinawa.

The government decided in 1999 the new airfield should be built in Nago, but its construction — and therefore the relocation of Futenma — has since been put on hold in the face of local opposition.

The current government plan calls for construction of the V-shaped runways at Camp Schwab by 2014.

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