Fresh from talks that failed miserably in Okinawa Prefecture, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto found a groundswell of opposition in Yamaguchi Prefecture against the U.S. military’s plan to station Osprey transport aircraft in Japan.
About 120 protesters on July 1 surrounded the Iwakuni city government building, where Morimoto held talks with Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda. He also held a meeting with Yamaguchi Governor Sekinari Nii in the prefectural capital of Yamaguchi.
Both Nii and Fukuda told Morimoto that they do not want the Osprey aircraft in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
The MV-22 Osprey aircraft are scheduled to first land at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in the prefecture in late July before being transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, in early October.
Two overseas accidents involving the Osprey have raised questions about the aircraft’s safety, especially after reports surfaced that the U.S. military plans to use the Osprey in training missions over a number of areas in Japan.
“I also warned Morimoto that if the Osprey lands on Iwakuni, relations of trust between the central government and our local governments could be jeopardized,” Fukuda told reporters.
Nii also told reporters after his meeting, “First of all, it is necessary for the central government to secure the safety of the Osprey.”
Hiroshi Okamura is a representative of Atagoyama wo Mamoru Kai (Group to protect Mount Atagoyama), which has specifically opposed transfers of aircraft carrier-based aircraft from the U.S. military’s Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture to Iwakuni.
The group appears to be expanding its opposition to other aircraft.
“The United States has clearly shown that it will use the entire Japan as a training area. If Iwakuni accepts the landing of the Osprey, the acceptance means that Iwakuni is joining the U.S. strategy,” Okamura said.
Toshiaki Tsuda, a representative of the Iwakuni Bakuon Sosho no Kai (Group for lawsuits on noise from military aircraft in Iwakuni), also expressed concerns that acceptance of the Osprey could lead to long-term safety risks for the residents.
“It is obvious that the Osprey’s landing on Iwakuni will become a foothold for the aircraft’s training in all of Japan,” Tsuda said. “I want the (Yamaguchi) governor and the (Iwakuni) mayor to negotiate with the central government while keeping in mind that they cannot do anything to take responsibility if the aircraft causes an accident and, as a result, human lives are lost.”
Earlier on July 1, Morimoto held talks with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima at the prefectural government office in Naha. The venue was surrounded by protesters, and the mood inside the office was also acrimonious.
The governor threatened to demand the closure of all U.S. military bases in the prefecture if the central government supports the plan for the Osprey deployment.
Morimoto also came under attack in a meeting with mayors and other officials of municipalities over which the Osprey is expected to fly during training runs.
“If you were a mayor (of a municipality in Okinawa Prefecture), could you support the deployment?” Kadena Mayor Hiroshi Toyama asked Morimoto.
Chatan Mayor Masaharu Noguni told the defense chief that Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts most of the U.S. military facilities in Japan, continues to suffer discrimination from the mainland.
And Nago Vice Mayor Kei Oyakawa told Morimoto, “The deployment is not a ‘burden’ the people in this prefecture shoulder, but the ‘sacrifice’ they are required to pay.”
The central government had asked 17 municipalities in Okinawa Prefecture to join the meeting with the defense minister. But only 11 followed the request.
Ginoza Mayor Hajime Azuma questioned the idea of being suddenly summoned to Naha, saying the purpose of the talks was unclear.
“I participated in the meeting because I wanted to know what Defense Minister Morimoto thinks of the opinions of the people in Okinawa Prefecture,” Azuma said. “But his answers had no substance.”
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