The U.S. 3rd Marine Division’s Northern Training Area, also known as the Jungle Warfare Training Center, is a vast training base area straddling the villages of Kunigami and Higashi in Yanbaru, Okinawa’s northern highlands.
In a bid to abate Okinawa’s rage over a recent rape and murder incident involving a former U.S. Marine, Washington started hyping the return of a large portion of the base. Actually, the return of the tract was agreed to in 1996. It was good news for us to hear that a considerable portion of the base would be returned without any string attached.
To our chagrin, however, a condition was added to the agreement the following year that replacements for seven helipads in the area promised for return would be built in the remaining area near the Takae district in Higashi.
It was a big deal that an already agreed-on diplomatic accord should be so easily altered with a condition added post diem! That such manipulation is possible betrays the fact that all postwar bilateral agreements have been pushed ahead by the U.S. side while Tokyo accepts them meekly and reluctantly.
The replacement facilities, six in all, are each 75 meters in diameter with approaches of roughly 100 meters attached on both sides. Thus, they are not replacements for the old small helipads, but are completely new facilities for Ospreys. It has been reported that Harrier jump jets will also use them for vertical and short takeoff and landing operations.
If flight training by these aircraft goes into full swing, the pristine natural environment around Takae, a habitat for endangered, precious species of fauna and flora, will certainly be destroyed.
Not only that, Takae villagers will be forced to suffer from intolerable noise pollution caused by low-flying Ospreys and Harriers.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.
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