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LDP lawmakers in Okinawa flip flop on thorny U.S. base relocation issue

Two Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers from Okinawa on Monday reversed their stance regarding the relocation of a controversial U.S. military base within the southernmost prefecture of the country.

Konosuke Kokuba and Natsumi Higa from the LDP's Okinawa chapter agreed with LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and other senior party officials at their headquarters in Tokyo that the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station, from the densely populated city of Ginowan to the less-populated coastal region of Henoko in Nago, should go ahead in line with a previous Japan-U.S. agreement.

The base has been the center of controversy as the relocation plans will involve the reclamation of land in the Henoko region, with local officials concerned about the damage to rare marine life including coral reefs.

As such, Kokuba and Higa had both vowed in their July House of Councilors election that they would campaign to see the base moved off Okinawa completely, as the tiny island of Okinawa hosts the bulk of the U.S. military personnel and hardware in Japan.

Ishiba said however that the original accord with the United States is the most practical as it removes the current dangers associated with the Futenma base being located in such a densely populated region, but local opposition to the relocation remains severe as citizens there have been promised the base would be moved off their island.

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima remains opposed to the relocation plans and has tirelessly petitioned the central government to seek an alternative way forward with the base issue. Kokuba, Higa and other lawmakers said they will try to seek the approval of Nakaima's proposal.

When asked about the flip-flop by Kokuba and Higa, Nakaima told local reporters that he had no comment as lawmakers have their own minds.

The Okinawa chapter of the LDP since the party swung to power has stood against the central government's accord with the U.S. to relocate the base and as such local opposition to the plan is likely to intensify with Nakaima unlikely to change his stance, according to sources close to the governor.

[Source: Xinhua, Tokyo, 25Nov13]

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