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Okinawa governor rejects US base relocation plan

Written by: Staff

TOKYO, Apr 8 (Reuters) The governor of Japan's southernb island of Okinawa today rejected a compromise plan to relocate a US Marine base, raising a fresh hurdle to wrapping up an overall deal on reorganising US military forces in Japan.

Okinawa governor Keiichi Inamine said he had told Defence 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 south of Tokyo.

''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 yesterday 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 package.

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.

Yesterday, 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 houses.

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 threats.

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 accidents.

Reuters PR GC1218

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