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US offers to move more Marines off Okinawa-report

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TOKYO, Feb 26: The United States has offered to relocate 1,000 more Marines off Japan's southern island of Okinawa than it initially proposed, a local daily said today, a move apparently aimed at gaining support of local residents.

The two countries are seeking to finalise plans by late March to reorganise the US troops in Japan, one aim of which is to reduce the burden of Okinawa, where nearly half the 50,000 US military personnel in Japan are based.

But the process has proved difficult. Many local communities are reluctant to host US bases due to concerns about pollution, accidents and crime such as the 1995 rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl, which sparked huge anti-base protests on the island.

Tokyo and Washington agreed in October on a broad plan to reorganise US bases that included a US proposal to remove 7,000 of the 18,000 US Marines based on Okinawa.

US officials have said that the Marines would be transferred to Guam and other areas.

But the US government, after re-assessing its personnel needs, has told Japan that it will allow the relocation from Okinawa of an additional 1,000 Marines, or 8,000 Marines in all, the Yomiuri newspaper said, quoting Japanese government sources.

''If the 8,000 cut comes about, it will greatly reduce the burden Okinawa Prefecture has to bear,'' Yomiuri quoted a senior government official as saying.

Tokyo and Washington agreed in October on a broad plan to reorganise US bases in Japan as part of US strategy to make its armed forces more flexible and forge closer ties with Japanese troops.

But some local communities that have been listed as candidate sites for the realignment have vocally opposed the plan.

Kyodo news agency reported that over 8,000 people in Kanoya in Kagoshima prefecture in southern Japan staged a protest today against the possible transfer of US refuelling planes stationed at Futenma air base in Okinawa to a Japanese military base in their city.

''The (Japanese) base is in the centre of this city with a population of some 60,000 people,'' Kyodo quoted Kanoya Mayor Sakae Yamashita as telling the gathering. ''Noise has already reached an intolerable level.'' Organisers of the protest said around 8,200 people took part in the protest, Kyodo said.

Futenma Marine Corps air base, which is located in a densely populated part of Okinawa, has come to symbolise friction over the US military presence on the island.

Japan and the United States agreed in their plan in October to relocate Futenma to another spot on the island in line with a 1996 agreement, but many Okinawa residents want the Marine facility moved off the island altogether.

Reuters

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