April 8, 2006

Okinawa governor rejects US base relocation plan

TOKYO (Reuters) - The governor of Japan's southern island
of Okinawa on Saturday rejected a compromise plan to relocate a
US Marine base, raising a fresh hurdle to wrapping up an
overall deal on reorganizing US military forces in Japan.

Okinawa governor Keiichi Inamine said he had told Defense
Minister Fukushiro Nukaga he would not accept the government's
proposal to relocate the US Marines' Futenma air base on the
subtropical island, about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) south of

"In order to maintain the solid Japan-US structure, it is
essential to secure social and political stability in Okinawa,"
Inamine told reporters after holding talks with Nukaga.

The governor's rejection follows an agreement on Friday
between the central government and a rural city on Okinawa to
relocate the US Marine base.

Inamine can legally block the relocation plan because he
has the authority over the use of the ocean where the central
government wants to relocate the base.

He said, however, that he would continue to discuss the
issue with the central government.

The plan to realign the more than 50,000 US troops in Japan
faces opposition from locals worried about noise, crime and
damage to the environment associated with US bases, and Tokyo
and Washington missed a March 31 deadline to wrap up the

US and Japanese officials had agreed to close Futenma air
base in a crowded part of Okinawa and move it next to another
base in the rural city of Nago on the island.

On Friday, Nukaga and Nago's mayor agreed to change initial
plans and build two runways forming a "V" shape off Nago's
shores, which would allow US planes to avoid flying over

The realignment plan also includes measures to integrate
Japanese and US forces more closely and is part of Washington's
effort to transform its military globally to meet modern

Tokyo had been putting pressure on Okinawa to accept the
relocation plan -- a must if 8,000 Marines are to be shifted
off the island, mostly to the US territory of Guam.

Outrage over the US military bases on Okinawa flared in
1995 after three US servicemen raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl
and surges periodically after high-profile crimes and