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USA makes biggest Okinawa land return since 1972

24 December 2016
USA makes biggest Okinawa land return since 1972

NAHA, Japan (Kyodo) - The Japanese government will hold a ceremony on Okinawa on Thursday to celebrate the return of thousands of hectares of land from the USA military, even as the recent crash-landing of a us military Osprey aircraft off the island prefecture has rattled the nerves of locals.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy attended a ceremony Wednesday in Tokyo to mark the handover of more than 4,000 hectares (about 10,000 acres), about half of the Jungle Warfare Training Center in the north of the island.

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 Northern Training Area, also known as Camp Gonsalves or the Jungle Warfare Training Center, is a 19,300-acre USA installation in northern Okinawa.

US military operations in Japan are heavily concentrated on Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture that makes up less than one percent of the country's landmass and maintains a distinct cultural identity.

Crimes and accidents by military personnel, civilian employees and dependents on Okinawa, combined with noise and inconvenience from military flights and training, have frustrated residents. A 27-year occupation followed before Okinawa was given back to Japan, but United States bases remained.

Many local people resent the concentration of USA troops and military facilities on the subtropical island, complaining of noise, pollution and crime associated with the bases.

Tension between Okinawa authorities and the USA military increased this month when a MV-22 Osprey aircraft crashed southwest of Okinawa, the first accident involving the aircraft in Japan. Tensions between the USA military and Okinawa's residents have been simmering over the past year. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, attended a ceremony in Tokyo over the move the previous day.

Onaga, meanwhile, plans to attend a citizens' rally to be held in the same city, instead of the land return ceremony, to protest over the December 13 accident involving a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which broke apart upon impact in shallow waters off Nago.

At a round-robin joint committee meeting of foreign and defense authorities on Wednesday, the two countries decided that Japan will offer the helipads to the USA side. It is the largest USA installation in Japan. When he's not working at Law Street he's either cooking a mediocre tofu dish or enjoying a run in the woods.