Protests in Guam, Okinawa over US troop transfers

Dozens of Guam residents led by the Guam Boonie Stompers staged a protest hike of the Pagat area over the weekend to oppose US plans to take the land for a new military base to house troops relocated from Okinawa. (Kuam News, Jan. 4) There have been numerous protests against the relocation in Guam in recent months, and in October a delegation of mostly young ethnic Chamorros traveled from the island to New York to denounce the plan before a special summit of the UN Committee on Decolonization. (IPS, Dec. 13)

An ongoing political stalemate with Japan meanwhile threatens to delay the $10.3 billion plan to relocate 8,000 US Marines from Okinawa to Guam. President Barack Obama in November called on Tokyo to resolve the matter "expeditiously." But Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama last month postponed a final decision on where to relocate the Marines from Okinawa's Futenma Air Base until May, resisting US pressure to implement a 2006 agreement to keep the base on the island. Okinawa residents have staged ongoing protests over the troop presence, aircraft noise and ecological impacts. Jan. 19 marks the 50th anniversary of the US-Japan security treaty. (Bloomberg, Jan. 7)

Upon coming to power in September, the center-left government led by Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) angered US officials by announcing a review the 2006 base relocation pact. Hatoyama now says he he needs more time to seek an alternative to the previously agreed plan to move the Marines from Futenma Air Station to another site on Okinawa, a coastal strip known as Henoko, near the US Camp Schwab. Dozens of Okinawans and their supporters rallied outside the prime minister's office in Tokyo Dec. 1, opposing the Henoko plan. "We don't need bases in Okinawa," read one banner. (AFP, Dec. 4)

One of the junior partners of Japan's coalition government has proposed transferring 23 F-15 fighter jets from Okinawa's Kadena Air Base to Misawa Air Base in northern Honshu, thereby freeing up room for Marine Corps operations to be moved from Futenma to Kadena. Mikio Shimoji, a New People's Party representative and a senior member of a subcommittee set up to find a settlement on the relocation issue, said his party's plan also includes moving training operations now conducted at Kadena to Osaka's Kansai Airport. (Stars & Stripes, Jan. 7)

Following a public outcry over the rape of a local schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor, Tokyo and Washington agreed in 1996 to close the Futenma base. After a helicopter from Futenma crashed on the Okinawa International University campus in August 2004 (causing no casualties, as the university was closed at the time), another agreement was announced in 2006. That "strategic roadmap" included both moving the facility up the island to Henoko and transfering 8,000 Marines from Futenma and other bases in Japan to Guam. It would be the most sweeping realignment of the 47,000 US troops in Japan since the Vietnam War. (AP, Dec. 29)

Futenma now houses some 2,000 troops, and the base takes up nearly a quarter of the land of the nearby city of Ginowan. Local officials are overwhelmingly opposed to the base. "This base violates so many regulations and safety rules that it would be illegal to operate it in the United States," Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha said. "The situation has just been left to fester for too long, and no one has been willing to accept responsibility to do anything." (AP, Jan. 7)

See our last posts on Japan and Okinawa, and Guam.

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