Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Friday called on Tokyo to pressure Washington to stop conducting parachuting drills at Kadena Air Base because they apparently violate a 1996 Japan-U.S. accord.
The use of the U.S. Air Force base for the drills was supposed to be an “exception” under the agreement. But a series of training sessions conducted or planned at the base over the past few months suggest it is becoming the “norm” instead, and that is unacceptable, Onaga told Defense Minister Tomomi Inada during a meeting in Tokyo.
Onaga also protested the continuing use of an aircraft parking space at the Kadena base that was previously used by the U.S. Navy, even though its function was transferred to a new space at the base in January to address noise concerns expressed by residents near the original spot.
Based on an the 1996 Japan-U.S. accord on reducing Okinawa’s base-hosting burden, the parachute training should basically be held at an auxiliary airfield on Ie Island, close to Okinawa. According to the Japanese government, such training can be held at Kadena, but only as an “exception.”
The U.S. conducted the drills in April and May. It also planned told hold one in June despite local opposition and a protest by the Defense Ministry but later suspended it, citing unfavorable weather.
The 1996 accord also led to the relocation of a Navy aircraft parking space. But the people in the town of Kadena were dismayed after discovering that the facility — just 50 meters from a residential area — would still used by aircraft, including the venerable U-2 spy planes the U.S. operates out of South Korea.
“We are seeing operations that go against the spirit” of the 1996 agreement signed to ease the base-hosting burden, Onaga said in a document handed to Inada in Tokyo on Friday. “We, local municipalities and the prefecture, cannot tolerate this kind of situation,” it added.
Inada said she recognizes that the two issues are “major burdens” for residents and vowed to work sincerely to address the problems.
Kadena Mayor Hiroshi Toyama, who accompanied Onaga on his visit to the ministry, told reporters later that residents are “feeling betrayed” because they were hoping they would finally be freed from aircraft noise and the smell of engine exhaust.
Toyama said the U.S. military may think that such operations are necessary because of the severe security environment in the region, where tensions are high over North Korea, but it should also heed residents’ sentiment against U.S. bases.
“The residents of Kadena are very angry . . . and some have even proposed the full removal of the base. Is that really beneficial for the security environment?” the mayor asked.
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