Published: Sat, December 24, 2016
Economy | By Melissa Porter

United States returns land it's controlled since WWII to Japan amid local anger

United States returns land it's controlled since WWII to Japan amid local anger

United States forces in Japan said on Wednesday that the U.S. and Japan are now prepared for the return of thousands of hectares of USA military-used land on Okinawa to Japanese control, in what would be the biggest such land transfer in more than 40 years.

The Japanese and US governments reached a formal agreement on Wednesday on the return of about half of a USA military training site in Okinawa Prefecture to Japan on Thursday.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the two governments aim to demonstrate their commitment to realign USA forces through the return of property slated earlier this week.

The Japanese government hopes that the training site return will facilitate progress on the planned transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma base in a congested area of Okinawa's Ginowan to the Henoko coastal area in Nago, another Okinawa city, sources familiar with the situation said.

The Northern Training Area, also known as Camp Gonsalves or the Jungle Warfare Training Center, is a 19,300-acre US installation in northern Okinawa. For one, in exchange for returning the land, the Japanese government agreed to build six helicopter landing pads at the jungle warfare training center.

Okinawans have complained for decades that the rest of Japan ignores their burden in supporting the alliance with the US.

However, local residents, who had been campaigning for decades against the existence of U.S. base in the prefecture, are not entirely assuaged with the return.

Takashi Kishimoto, from the anti-US base group Peace Okinawa, told CNN: "From our point of view, the United States military is giving back something it doesn't want while having new Osprey runways built".

To address the noise problems and accident risks posed by the Futenma base, the Japanese and USA governments have pursued its relocation to a less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago.

An Osprey crash-landing off Okinawa on 14 December added to safety concerns and anti-US base sentiment and, demanding an unconditional land return, Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga skipped Thursday's handover ceremony and joined a protest. Jerry Martinez, the commander of U.S. Forces Japan, attended the ceremony. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and Air Force Lt. Gen.

The return was the largest of its kind since 1972, when Washington gave back a large part of the island to Japan. Baklava is his achilles heel.

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