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Japan Sees Breakthrough On US Troop Plan

Japanese troops stand guard during a ceremony to donate medical supplies to local hospitals in Samawa, 250 kms south of Baghdad, 09 May 2006. Japan may consider airlifting goods and personnel to Baghdad, the Japanese Foreign Minister told local press, amid reports Tokyo is preparing for a complete withdrawal from Iraq by July. Photo courtesy of Ahmad Abdel Razak and AFP.
by Kyoko Hasegawa
Tokyo (AFP) May 12, 2006
Japan's government hailed a breakthrough Thursday on a historic plan to realign US forces as the leader of Okinawa, which hosts most US troops in the country, warmed to the deal.

The plan approved by Tokyo and Washington would pull 8,000 of the 20,000 US troops out of Okinawa, but it has met resistance by residents in the southern island chain who say it does not go far enough.

During talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other leaders in Tokyo, Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine signed an agreement to continue talks between the central and local governments.

The Tokyo government claimed victory as it said talks would be held on the basis of the current government plan.

"After candid talks we have been able to sign an agreement. Together with Okinawa prefecture and relevant cities we would like to realize the relocation plan," said a smiling Fukushiro Nukaga, chief of Japan's Defense Agency.

The Yomiuri Shimbun in its evening edition said Koizumi's government believed that the under-pressure Inamine had given his de facto green light letting the cabinet move ahead.

But Inamine denied he was shifting from his previous staunch opposition to the plan.

"There is no change in the prefecture's stance," Inamine told reporters. "As the central government is prepared to talk with us sincerely, I will keep expressing Okinawans' requests so our hopes can be realized."

The United States and Japan approved the military plan on May 1 after months of protracted negotiations about the cost.

Japan agreed to provide 6.09 billion dollars of the 10.27 billion dollars needed to move the US Marines from Okinawa to the US territory of Guam by 2014.

In the most sweeping reorganization of US troops in Japan since the US military presence began at the end of World War II, the two nations would also improve their ballistic missile defense.

"We appreciate the cooperation of Okinawa. Our central government wants to do its best and handle the issue sincerely," Koizumi, a close US ally, said after meeting the governor.

A main concern in Okinawa has been the Futenma air base, due to the noise it generates in the crowded urban center of Ginowan.

The plan would shift Futenma's operations to another air base in Okinawa rather than remove it from the province as local leaders had hoped.

Nago, the town that would host Futenma's transferred facilities, in January elected a new mayor who is ready to accept the plan.

But the mayor of Ginowan voiced his opposition to the governor's pact Thursday, even though his city stands to lose Futenma.

"We can't accept the agreement as we don't think it will guarantee anything regarding the safety of residents here," Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha said.

Hiroshi Ashitomi, the leader of an anti-US base group in Nago, vowed a petition campaign to stop the deal.

"I feel angry," Ashitomi told AFP. "Governor Inamine has betrayed us Okinawa residents."

Okinawa, which was ruled by Washington from 1945 to 1972, has frequently seen tension with US troops, particularly in 1995 after three US Marines gang-raped a 12-year-old girl.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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