NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, said Saturday that the government is seeking the return of a portion of a large U.S. military training area in Okinawa Prefecture by year-end.
“(Japan) wants to negotiate with the United States to achieve the year-end return of the training area,” Suga said during a meeting with the chiefs of the villages of Kunigami and Higashi in northern Okinawa.
The land occupied by the U.S. military’s Northern Training Area straddles Kunigami and Higashi, and the land’s return is viewed as a way for the government to demonstrate to local residents it is taking steps to ease Okinawa’s base-hosting burden.
Suga met them in the city of Nago, on the main island of Okinawa, during a visit Saturday. He also met Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga to discuss the long-stalled, contentious plan to relocate a key U.S. base within Okinawa.
On the first day of his two-day visit, Suga observed from a Self-Defense Forces helicopter the construction site of helipads for the U.S. military.
The United States agreed in 1996 to return to Japan about 4,000 hectares (12,000 acres), or almost half of the training area, in exchange for relocating helipads from the portion of the base to be returned to the area retained.
Okinawa continues to lock horns with the central government over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from its current location in the crowded residential area in Ginowan to a less populated area in Nago.
The Okinawa government argues the prefecture bears the burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan and wants the Futenma base relocated outside Okinawa.
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