US formally returns large swath of land on Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — U.S. and Japanese representatives came together Thursday, despite protests, to return the largest swath of land to the Japanese government since 1972.
Meeting at Nago’s Bankoku Shinryokan Hall, U.S. officials handed back 4,000 of the Northern Training Area’s 7,542 hectares — or nearly 10,000 acres, roughly the size of two Kadena Air Bases. The land is mostly undeveloped jungle. It will now be absorbed and protected by the surrounding Yanbaru National Park.
Though the return officially reduced the American footprint on Okinawa by 20 percent, the ceremony was overshadowed by protesters seeking a smaller American military presence on Okinawa and boycotted by Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who opposes U.S. basing on the island.
The government of Prime Ministr Shinzo Abe “has worked with a determination that it would do everything possible to mitigate the impacts of the military presence on Okinawa, and in a visible way,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during the ceremony.
Suga also tried to assuage the fears of residents who had opposed six helicopter landing zones built in a consolidated area to facilitate the land return.
“Construction of the helicopter landing zones has caused great trouble and concern to residents in Kunigami and Higashi villages,” he said. “Safety is the major prerequisite. To mitigate aircraft noise and ensure safety, we will work closely with the (U.S.) military so their aircraft avoids flying over residential areas.”
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