US 'to return some Okinawa land to Japan'
05 April 2013, 14:12
Tokyo - Japan and the United States have agreed on a plan that will see some land occupied by the US military returned to the islands in a bid to break the deadlock in a long-stalled deal, reports said on Friday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Ambassador John Roos were expected to sign off on the pact later on Friday, in a deal that involves five US military facilities and other areas on Okinawa's main island, Kyodo News said.
Tokyo and Washington have also agreed they will return land currently occupied by the controversial Futenma airbase in 2022 or later, Jiji Press said.
The reported deals come after years in which a plan to move the US Marine Corps' Futenma base from a crowded residential area have been stuck in stasis because of vocal opposition from islanders.
Locals want the base moved off Okinawa altogether, arguing that the island bears an unequal burden hosting the lion's share of the 47 000 US service personnel stationed in Japan.
The central government says the US military presence in the strategic island is a key for maintaining security at a time of increasing self-assertiveness from China and an unpredictable North Korea.
Tokyo and Washington originally agreed to move the base in 2006.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office late December, met US President Barack Obama in February and confirmed the two countries would go ahead with the planned relocation of Futenma, despite local opposition.