Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Northern Marianas offers to take entire Futenma US base

Northern Marianas offers to take entire Futenma US base

February 11, 2010 10:04:44

There has been an unexpected development overnight in the movement of US troops from Okinawa, Japan, with Northern Marianas expressing interest in taking the entire Futenma air base at the same time as Guam is pushing back on the suggestion.

A delegation sent by the newly-elected Japanese government is currently in Guam pushing for the entire Futenma US air base to be relocated there. This proposal would see thousands more troops added to the 8,000 already heading to Guam. It is a request that's unlikely to be accepted by Guam as the governor says the island is not prepared to deal with such a huge population increase.

This morning though, Japan's Kyodo news agency is reporting that the Northern Mariana Islands has stepped-in and offered to host the entire Futenma air base.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Gemma Casas, reporter in Saipan, Northern Marianas

CASAS: This is an opportunity for the CNMI to take a slice if you will of the potential military economy, but then the CNMI Governor agrees that this is not only his decision because as you know the CNMI is a government of the United States, anything that has to do with defence and foreign affairs, has to be decided by the nation.

COUTTS: But just stay on that point for a moment, why does the CNMI think that they can accommodate this airbase when Guam, who have had years in the lead-up to it, now say that they can't?

CASAS: Because the CNMI is a chain of 14 islands; only three are inhabited and from what I've been hearing the Futenma air base will potentially be reallocated to Tinian. In the territory, two thirds of public lands on Tinian are strictly US military. And there will not be that much people on Tinian.

COUTTS: And so they'd be able to accommodate in excess of 20,000 people along with all their hardware and artillery that will come with it?

CASAS: I believe so yeah, but they're also studying the possibility, they are only more than 3,000 people on Tinian right now, it's not exactly big of an island but they can probably accommodate 4,000 more people. The 8,000 US Marines will be reallocated to Guam, that's already a done deal, but this Futenma air base, which deals with aviation is different from the 8,000 Marines.

COUTTS: Has CNMI Governor Benigno Fitial formalised this invitation to host the entire Futenma air base to the US and to Guam and to Japan even?

CASAS: During a press conference yesterday he said there hasn't been any formal offer from the Japanese government, to use the land of the CNMI for the reallocation of the Futenma air base, but he said he's willing to bring this idea to the US government.

COUTTS: Is this likely to affect the relationship with Guam if CNMI is successful in any way?

CASAS: He said it's not really going to affect their relationship because Guam is not so keen on accommodating the Futenma air base because they're already going to host 8,000 US Marines and their 9,000 dependents. So in a way they're tossing to the CNMI a place for the Futenma air base.

COUTTS: Has there been enough time since the offer was made by the Governor to canvass opinion from the people who are going to be affected by it? Then that's one of the issues in Guam is that the environmental impact statements haven't been done properly, and that the population hasn't been considered and their opinion sought. Is this the case in CNMI?

CASAS: Yes that's right, he says his position on the Futenma air base is solely as the representative of the people but he said if the people want to speak out they have the freedom to do so.

COUTTS: And what's the next step then by Governor Fitial?

CASAS: I think he plans to formally bring this matter up to the proper authorities in the US government. But please take note that consultation on the environmental impact assessment would be completed. So I don't know how this Futenma air base would come into the picture.

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