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Japan to temporarily withdraw UNESCO World Heritage bid for Amami and Okinawa isles

JIJI

The government plans to temporarily withdraw its proposal for the addition of Amami-Okinawa islands to the UNESCO World Heritage list, with a goal of resubmitting the application to the international cultural body next year after revamping it, informed sources said Wednesday.

The move is expected to be approved at a Cabinet meeting as early as next week, according to the sources.

The government now aims to have the islands in Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures added to the UNESCO list in summer 2020.

The temporary withdrawal comes after the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a UNESCO advisory body, recommended earlier this month that the World Heritage designation for the islands be postponed.

The IUCN highly rated the islands as they are inhabited by many endangered indigenous species including the Amami rabbit and the Okinawa rail, but noted that proposed sites in the northern part of the main island of Okinawa are isolated from each other.

The IUCN suggested that the Amami-Okinawa bid also include forested areas of the island’s northern region that were returned from the U.S. military in 2016.

Following the recommendation, Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa told a news conference that it would be difficult to obtain World Heritage status for the Amami-Okinawa islands this year, as the addition of candidate areas requires a resubmission of the application and this year’s decision-making meeting of the World Heritage Committee is set to take place shortly in Bahrain from June 24-July 4.

Japan is expected to submit a revised proposal to UNESCO in February 2019. This will be followed by a field survey by the IUCN and then a screening by the World Heritage Committee.