Okinawa Governor refuses Japan state order to proceed with landfill work on US base

Governor Takeshi Onaga told reporters he will "do his best" to prevent the government from building the base.
Governor Takeshi Onaga told reporters he will "do his best" to prevent the government from building the base.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - The governor of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Wednesday (Nov 11) rejected a state order to proceed with landfill work on a new United States military base, in the latest move in a nearly 20-year battle over the controversial project.

Outspoken Governor Takeshi Onaga told reporters he will "do his best" to prevent the government from building the base.

The dispute is over a proposal, first mooted in 1996, to move the US Marines' Futenma air base from a densely populated city in the central part of the island to a remote area in the north.

The plan, however, has become the focus of anger among locals, who insist the base should be shut and a replacement built elsewhere in another part of Japan or overseas.

Last month, Mr Onaga cancelled approval for work on the facility, saying that "defects" had been found in the go-ahead given by his predecessor in 2013.

But the Japanese government later overturned Mr Onaga's revocation.

Mr Onaga said that the government's recent actions towards Okinawa are "extremely unjust".

Japanese media reports said that the dispute is now likely headed to the courts for resolution.

Okinawans have long complained that the rest of Japan must share the burden of hosting the US military presence, which has brought with it noise pollution, road accidents and occasional crimes by US service members.

Okinawa, which was occupied by the United States for 27 years after World War II, is home to more than half of the 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.

Okinawa, which accounts for less than one percent of Japan's total land area, hosts about 75 per cent of US military facilities in the country.

Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly backed the base transfer plan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisting it was "the only solution" for eliminating the danger to residents of the Futenma base.

Work in the Henoko district of Nago city in the island's north is only in the initial stages with crews setting up sea floats and a makeshift bridge necessary for landfill work.

There is widespread agreement that Futenma's current site - in the middle of a crowded urban area where US aircraft are a nuisance to thousands of locals - is a danger to residents.

The US says it will not close the base until a replacement facility is ready.

Opponents say building the replacement facility in Henoko would seriously damage nearby coral reefs and the delicate habitat of the dugong, a rare sea mammal.