Okinawa rejects plan to build a U.S. heliport

Okinawa's governor told Japan's central government on Monday that he rejects a plan to build a U.S. heliport on the southern island as part of a realignment of the American military presence there, a news report said.

The heliport plan was struck last week as part of an agreement to close a widely opposed Marine Corps air station in a densely populated part of Okinawa and move its functions to an existing base on the island state.

Defense Facilities Administration Agency chief Iwao Kitahara met with Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine on Monday to explain the plan, an agency official said on condition of anonymity in accordance with agency rules.

Kyodo News service said Inamine rejected the plan, saying many Okinawans wanted the total removal of the air station. The agency official said he could not immediately confirm details of the Kyodo report, but acknowledged that the talks were tough.

"We received very difficult opinions and suggestions," the official quoted Kitahara as telling reporters. "We'll continue our effort to show sincerity and gain understanding."

Kitahara visited Okinawa after Japan and the United States reached a broad agreement over the weekend on strengthening military cooperation, reducing the number of U.S. Marines in Okinawa and giving Tokyo greater responsibility for security in the Pacific.

Under the accord, 7,000 U.S. Marines will leave strategically located Okinawa for the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, a move which is expected to take six years. It says Japan, recognizing the strong desire of Okinawa residents for a rapid reduction of U.S. forces, will work with the U.S. government to examine how it can help facilitate the move to Guam.

There are currently 14,460 Marines in Japan, the largest Marine contingent based overseas. Nearly all are located on Okinawa.

But Inamine balked at a plan to relocate the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in the crowded southern part of Okinawa to Camp Schwab in the north, saying that many Okinawans want the air station to be totally removed, citing safety and environmental concerns, Kyodo said.

Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island state about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo, shoulders nearly half of about 50,000 U.S. servicemen in Japan.

Many Okinawans oppose any new U.S. military construction on the island, reports the AP. I.L.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team