Japan Citizens' Coalition Vows to Fight US Forces Realignment

A coalition of Japanese groups say it opposes a plan to realign U.S. forces in Japan. However, a U.S. official expressed confidence that the grassroots movement will not derail a agreement between Washington and Tokyo.

Representatives of 23 groups from communities that host U.S. military bases in Japan say the realignment plan is a step in the wrong direction because it will not make big enough reductions in the size of the bases.

Plans to transfer a U.S. Marine air station away from an urban area in the center of Okinawa island are drawing much of the coalition's anger. The U.S. and Japanese governments have agreed to shift the airfield to the more remote Okinawa town of Nago.

Hiroshi Ashitomi , with a group from Nago, says no matter what, the plan will be unacceptable to people in the town.

Ashitomi says residents oppose turning the blue sea near Nago into a military base for killing people. He says Okinawans, just as they did when the island chain was a kingdom, want to live in peace with their Asian neighbors.

U.S. and Japanese officials say they hope to finalize the base realignment agreement by early May.

The biggest issue being discussed is how much Japan will pay to move 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. island of Guam. The United States wants Japan to pay about 75 percent of the estimated $10 billion cost, an amount Tokyo says is too high.

Lawyer and civic activist Masahiko Goto says Japan should not pay anything.

"The Japanese-U.S. security treaty decides that we don't have to pay for the realignment of the U.S. bases to another country," he said. "We don't have legal responsibility to pay that."

Japan's governing coalition is expected to introduce legislation to allow Tokyo to pay a large part of the bill.

The political and military affairs director at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Kevin Maher, told VOA Monday that he is a confident that talks will resolve the cost issue very soon. He says negotiations have proceeded smoothly.

Maher says the vast majority of the Japanese public support the U.S. role in helping defend Japan. But he is not surprised by the opposition in some communities.

"I think it is inevitable that you would see this in any country, including the United States - a certain amount of 'not in my backyard' syndrome that you see whenever you talk about moving bases around or whenever you talk about moving things from one base to another base," noted Maher.

The realignment plan calls for moving some U.S. Navy aircraft from near Tokyo to southern Japan and transferring several hundred personnel from the United States to a camp near Tokyo.

In addition, under the plan, Japanese military bases will host U.S. fighter jet training and provide facilities for refueling some U.S. aircraft. And Japan's air defense command will move to the U.S. Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, while the Pacific island of Guam is to provide facilities for training Japanese troops.

On a related matter, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer on Monday delivered to Japan's foreign minister a document concerning the safety of nuclear-powered warships. The report is meant to allay public concern about plans to base a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Japan.