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Iran Press TV

US returns part of Okinawa's WWII-occupied land to Japan

Iran Press TV

Wed Dec 21, 2016 2:22PM

The United States government has officially returned a large chunk of occupied land on Okinawa Island to Japan, but is pushing ahead with plans to stay on the prefecture despite public outrage.

US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy joined Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday in a ceremony to mark the handover of over 4,000 hectares (about 10,000 acres) of land that the US had occupied after the Second World War.

The land was part of a zone commonly known as the Northern Training Area, located inside a vast US military base complex on the Pacific island.

The return was the largest of its kind since 1972, when Washington gave back a large part of the island to Japan. Despite the latest move, 17 percent of Okinawa still remains under US occupation.

After the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by three US troops in 1996, Washington and Tokyo agreed to relocate some US servicemen outside Okinawa or move others to less populated parts of the island.

Under the deal, the US Marines' Futenma base, which is currently in a heavily-populated area, would be relocated to a less populated area.

However, that plan faced delays due to protests by local residents against the construction of new US military facilities. Protesters want the base and the US military off their land altogether.

Led by Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, Okinawan people are also worried about the high rate of crimes and reckless incidents involving the US military personnel.

In his attempts to block the relocation, Onaga revoked an October 2015 order by his predecessor for a landfill project that would allow Washington and Tokyo to complete the relocation.

Onaga and his campaign received a major blow on Wednesday, when the Japanese Supreme Court said he acted "illegally" when he called off the project.

Situated in the East China Sea, Okinawa hosts the bulk of the nearly 50,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan and is key to Washington's plans to curb China's growing influence in the region.

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