Okinawa gov. wants Americans to know island's US base burden

AP

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Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki speaks during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) in Tokyo, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. Gov. Tamaki talked to the media ahead of his U.S. trip to raise awareness among Americans about the tiny southern island's burden of hosting most of American troops (Sadayuki Goto/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — The outspoken governor of Japan's Okinawa island said Friday he will meet with Americans next week to convey to them residents' frustration from hosting U.S. military bases on the southern island.

Denny Tamaki said he will meet with U.S. government officials in Washington and speak at New York University during his Nov. 11-16 trip.

"I hope to speak directly to American citizens and convey my views representing Okinawa and have a discussion about democracy," Tamaki told a packed news conference in Tokyo.

Tamaki took office Oct. 4 after campaigning for a disputed U.S. base on Okinawa to be scrapped and the American military presence reduced. He said he wanted to visit the U.S. soon after winning the election in order to get his voters' voices heard.

The first person with an American parent to lead Okinawa, Tamaki said his roots make him a perfect figure to relay the message to the U.S. public.

At the center of contention is a decades-old plan to move a Marine Corps air station from densely populated Futenma in the southern part of the island to less-crowded Henoko on the east coast.

Many Okinawans say the presence of so many U.S. troops on the island is burdensome already and they want the existing Futenma base closed and its replacement moved off the island entirely.

Tamaki, during his visit to Tokyo in mid-October, urged Abe and other top officials to stop the Henoko plan and reduce Okinawa's burdens, while he stressed the importance of resolving the dispute through dialogue rather than bulldozing the plan by legal actions. Despite his request and Okinawans' opposition, Abe's government last week resumed construction work at the disputed site at Henoko.

The action has reignited anger on the island.

"Okinawa is working hard toward peace building, and based on that perspective we call on the Japanese government and the United States government to look at ways to reduce the burden of the bases and build peace. We call for deepening of their relationship and effort to achieve those goals," Tamaki said Friday.

Japan's central government should be the one to negotiate with the U.S. for Okinawa's interest. "As the central government is not delivering Okinawans' voice to the U.S. side, it is now my responsibility to convey that directly to the Americans and they have a responsibility to listen to us," Tamaki said.

He has said he supports the Japan-U.S. security alliance, but that Okinawa should not be the only one sacrificed.

The relocation of Futenma air station was planned after the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl in which three U.S. servicemen were convicted. The case ignited simmering Okinawan opposition to the U.S. bases.

About half of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan under a bilateral security pact and the majority of their key facilities are on Okinawa. Residents have long complained about base-related noise, pollution and crime.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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