National / Social Issues

Okinawa protesters call for return of Futenma 20 years after pact was reached


About 200 people in Okinawa rallied Sunday to push for the early return of land occupied by the Futenma military base ahead of the 20th anniversary of the bilateral accord on returning it to Japanese control.

The protesters gathered near U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is located in a crowded residential area of Ginowan, and held placards with slogans such as “Take down the fence!” and “Let’s take back Futenma.”

In the wake of public anger over the 1995 rape of a local girl by three American servicemen, Tokyo and Washington agreed on April 12, 1996, that the land used for Futenma should be returned to Japan.

The plan has been thwarted by strong local opposition to the plan to replace the facility with a new air base to be built in the less-populated Henoko coastal district in Nago, further north on Okinawa Island.

Tamayo Yamashiro, 50, a protester who was pregnant when the Japan-U.S. accord was struck in 1996, said: “I felt glad as I thought the (Futenma) base would be gone by the time (my child) could walk and talk, but that feeling was replaced by anger after learning that the facility would be moved within the prefecture.

“Why do only Okinawa residents have to shoulder the burden of hosting the base?” she asked.

“I want the (central) government to return (the land occupied by) the dangerous base unconditionally, if it is aware of its task of protecting Japanese nationals,” said Mutsuki Kikumura, a 25-year-old university student. “I cannot trust the government as it has left the base as it is for 20 years.”