US Air-Base in Okinawa to be Relocated to Another Part of Island

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By Gopi Chandra Kharel | December 27, 2013 6:36 PM EST

Japan has approved the relocation of a US military airbase located in its southern island of Okinawa, after years of conflict between US and Japan. The local population of the island is said to have pressurized its government to remove the Marines completely.

The US Futenma airbase in Okinawa will now be relocated to a new remote site near Nago, a less densely populated area in the North of the island.

The approval to relocate the base passed by the governor of Okinawa, Hirakazu Nakaima would bolster efforts by the Pentagon to strengthen its military presence over the Asia-Pacific region and would beef up Tokyo's strategic military posture amid its row with China surrounding the islands in East China Sea.

Nakaima's approval will be widely seen as a breakthrough after what has been years of deadlock over where a new US base should be relocated. The Marine Corps' Air Station has around 26,000 troops stationed under a long-standing security alliance with Japan.

Anger among the local population with the Air-base arose primarily in 1996 after American servicemen gang-raped a schoolgirl in Okinawa, an incident that fueled a local protest movement in the island, which demanded the Marines to be removed from there. The protest snowballed to become a movement suggesting declaration of Okinawa's independence from Japan. Concerns were raised about adverse effects of building another base in the environmentally sensitive island's coast after Japan and the US agreed to close the Futenma airbase.

Although the relocation would widely be seen as a final resolution to a long-simmering dispute, it will still be controversial for some critics and the population of the island who feel that the airbase must be moved out of Okinawa prefecture completely.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is reported to have met Mr Nakaima on Wedneday urging him to agree upon the relocation of the base.

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