• Kyodo

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The Okinawa Prefectural Government on Friday appealed a high court ruling that said its cancellation of landfill work for the central government’s effort to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is illegal.

The ruling was the first of its kind in the intensifying legal battle being waged by Okinawa Prefecture and Tokyo over the contentious bilateral plan, which has been delayed for decades.

The plan is to move U.S. air base from crowded Ginowan to less-populated Nago, but Okinawa residents want it out of the prefecture altogether.

The appeal follows Thursday’s crash of a U.S. Harrier jet off Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan. The crash prompted Onaga to repeat the safety concerns of Okinawa’s residents.

The U.S. Marine AV-8 Harrier jet crashed around 1:55 p.m. about 150 km east of Cape Hedo at the north end of Okinawa after taking off from U.S. Kadena Airbase in the prefecture. The pilot was picked up by a U.S. Air Force rescue aircraft and the U.S. military is investigating the cause of the accident, which caused no damage to any vessels in the area.

The central government responded quickly to the crash on Thursday, with the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau urging U.S. forces in Japan to prevent further accidents.

“I want to call on the U.S. side to handle the operation of airplanes with the utmost consideration for citizens and our country. I would also like to call for thorough safety management,” Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told reporters Friday.

She also promised to deal “appropriately” with the situation, such as by quickly providing related information to the relevant local authorities.

Inada’s remarks came just ahead of her trip to Okinawa, which will be her first since she assumed the defense post in early August.

On her visit through Saturday she is scheduled to hold talks with Onaga and is eager to seek support for the Futenma relocation plan, which is based on an agreement between Japan and the United States made in 1996.

The central government has maintained that the plan is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance. But Onaga and many Okinawan people want the base kicked out of the prefecture.

The dispute became a legal battle after Onaga revoked last October his predecessor’s approval for the carrying out landfill work needed to move the base.

In a lawsuit filed by the central government, the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court said on Sept. 16 the transfer plan is the only way to address safety and noise problems at the base and that the act of revocation was “illegal.”

Tokyo and Okinawa both agreed earlier to abide by a final ruling on the case, which could be issued by next March.

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