March 24, 2006

Japan, US split over military base relocation costs

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and the United States are divided
over how much Tokyo should pay to move U.S. Marines to Guam
from the Japanese island of Okinawa, Japan's foreign minister
said on Friday, as the two allies struggled to wrap up a plan
on relocating U.S. troops by an end-March deadline.

Negotiators meeting in Tokyo are trying to finalize details
of a plan to reorganize the approximately 50,000 U.S. military
personnel in Japan by the end of the month.

But squabbling over the funding and opposition from
Japanese communities worried about noise, crime and accidents
associated with the U.S. bases threaten to delay finalizing the
deal, which was agreed upon last October.

"These are it's natural that there is
quite a gap," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told

The March deadline was self-imposed but an extended delay
could frustrate Washington, which is trying to transform its
forces globally into a more flexible force.

Included in the realignment plan was a shift of 7,000
Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam. Washington
has since offered to raise that to 8,000 Marines.

"We want them (negotiators) to make efforts to reach an
agreement by the end of March," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo
Abe told a news conference.

"On the other hand, we must explain sincerely to the local
people," Abe added, in a sign an agreement might be delayed.

Washington has proposed that Tokyo pay 75 percent of the
estimated $10 billion it will cost to move the Marines to Guam,
while Japan wants to reduce the bill and provide at least some
of the funds in the form of loans because of its huge public

A stated goal of the realignment in Japan is to reduce
tensions with communities that host U.S. bases.

Resentment of the U.S. military presence runs especially
deep in Okinawa, one of Japan's poorest prefectures and host to
about half the U.S. military presence in Japan. The 1995 rape
of a Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen prompted huge
demonstrations and calls for the removal of the American bases.

As the talks continued on Friday, an American employee of
the U.S. Kadena Air Base on Okinawa was sentenced to nine years
in prison for raping two women, a spokesman for the Naha
District Court said.

Media described the defendant, Dag Thompson, 36, as an
ex-Marine who had sold cars at the base and was arrested in
2004. U.S. military officials could not immediately comment.

Talks earlier this week between Japanese defense officials
and the mayor of Nago City on Okinawa failed to patch up
differences over the proposed relocation of the U.S. Marines'
Futenma air base from a crowded part of the island to an area
straddling another base and the Nago coast.