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Small portion of U.S. air base in Okinawa returned

The United States on Monday returned to Japan a small portion of
land within the Futenma air base, a move the Japanese government has
touted as a reduction in the disproportionate burden Okinawa carries
in hosting the U.S. military.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press
conference in Tokyo that the return of the approximately 4-hectare
strip, or 0.8 percent of the 481-hectare base, will "significantly"
improve the living conditions of local residents as it will be used
for a new road that has been years in the planning.

Questions remain about when the rest of the land in Ginowan now
being used as the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma may be
returned to Japan as promised under a bilateral agreement. Okinawa
hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

Progress on the transfer is likely to be slowed by opposition to
the government's plan to build the base's replacement in the less
populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.

Construction is moving forward in Henoko after it had been
stalled for years amid local opposition, with landfill work now
underway in the coastal area. But the Okinawa government appears
determined to do everything possible to thwart the base construction,
including fighting in court for a halt to the landfill work.

Last week, the Okinawa prefectural government filed a fresh
lawsuit against the central government, seeking a halt to

Suga stressed Tokyo's readiness to proceed with the relocation
project, saying, "It is necessary for (the central and local
governments) to cooperate."

While hailing the return of the 2-kilometer-long strip on the
outer edge of the base, a senior prefectural government official
noted that it represented just a small portion of the base. "The
quick return of all the land and suspending the operation (of the
Futenma base) are an urgent task," the official said.

The two countries announced in December 2015 some land at the
key U.S. base would be returned as part of efforts to ease the island
prefecture's hosting burden.

In 1996, the Japanese and U.S. governments struck an accord on
the return of the land used for the Futenma base. In 2013, they
agreed to return the land in "fiscal 2022 or later." (July 31)

Photo taken in May 2017 shows a densely populated downtown
area of Ginowan in Okinawa Prefecture, with U.S. Marine Corps
Air Station Futenma in the background. The United States
returned to Japan a small strip of land within the air base
on July 31, in a move the Japanese government has touted
as a reduction in the disproportionate burden on the prefecture
from hosting U.S. military forces. (Kyodo)