Relocation of up to 4,000 US troops to CNMI mulled
hursday, February 11, 2010
By Haidee V. Eugenio
JAPANESE LAWMAKERS STOP OVER SAIPAN
Visiting Japanese lawmakers said yesterday they may recommend the relocation of 2,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops from the aviation units at Futenma in Japan to the CNMI, on top of the 8,000 Marines to be relocated from Okinawa to Guam, said Senate Pres. Paul A. Manglona (R-Rota).
National Diet or Japan Legislature members Mikio Shimoji, Tomoko Abe, and Ryoichi Hattori met with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, House Speaker Froilan C. Tenorio (Cov-Saipan), and Manglona at the Saipan airport yesterday afternoon, on their way to Guam.
Shimoji, Abe, and Hattori are part of the 23-member Japanese government delegation arriving on Guam for what Fitial described as a “fact-finding” visit, particularly to see if there's suitable place on Guam for more U.S. troops to be relocated off Okinawa.
This is in addition to the estimated 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents who are expected to be relocated by 2014, although Guam Gov. Felix P. Camacho asked for the military buildup to be delayed until after 2014.
Fitial and other CNMI officials were one in saying they welcome the relocation of U.S. troops to the Commonwealth provided the U.S. government consents to such move.
“We're not offering them anything. We're just telling them we welcome them, provided that the U.S. government consents or concurs,” the governor said.
Manglona and Fitial clarified that there is no definite plan to move U.S. troops to the CNMI, but it's one of the options being looked at.
“Shimoji said they will recommend moving troops to the CNMI. He gave the range. It could be 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000,” he said.
Fitial will travel to Guam to attend today's meeting between Guam officials and the visiting Japanese delegation led by Yorihisa Matsuno, deputy chief Cabinet secretary of the Japan Diet.
The three Japanese lawmakers who made a stopover on Saipan were major players in the relocation talks. Shimoji is the policy chief of the People's New Party, one of the tripartite ruling coalitions in Japan, while Abe is the policy chief of the Social Democratic Party. Hattori is also with the Social Democratic Party.
“They're looking at all options, including Guam and the CNMI. I will be listening to what Guam has to say. As I said, I welcome them provided that the U.S. government concurs,” Fitial said.
Manglona said Tinian has been waiting for decades to welcome military presence on the island.
“It seems they have been listening to the people, as they prepare to meet with the U.S. government. We made it clear to the Japanese lawmakers that the CNMI is open, but we defer making decisions to the U.S. government,” Manglona said.
Fitial said as with all other existing relocation plans, any cost to move troops to the CNMI should not be borne by the CNMI.
Both the CNMI and Guam governors had said that socio-economic impacts are the major concerns when it comes to the massive military buildup on Guam, and Fitial said this is also true with any plan to relocate U.S. troops to the CNMI.
Fitial said Japanese lawmakers wanted to visit the CNMI again to see for themselves any room for U.S. troops to be relocated.
Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) said Tinian welcomes any plan to relocate U.S. troops to the island, two-thirds of which is leased by the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The lease makes it easier for them to come here. We certainly welcome the plan or the option of choosing the CNMI as a site for relocating U.S. troops from Japan,” said Hofschneider, who is the chairman of the Tinian Legislative Delegation.
Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz earlier said that an expected decrease in civilian tourist arrivals to the island as a result of he massive buildup should be mitigated by an increase in military personnel and their families' visit to Tinian for rest and recreation.
Dela Cruz also said the military should ensure an effective quarantine system to prevent brown tree snakes, rhinoceros beetles, and other invasive species from entering Tinian.
'Stretch out and spread out'
Sen. Judith Guthertz of Guam, in a Jan. 28 letter to Joint Guam Program Office executive director David Bice, recommended stretching out and spreading out the relocation of U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam.
She said the U.S. military should consider relocating the First Marine Aircraft Wing aviation command from Futenma to Tinian and Agrigan or the Goat Island in the CNMI.
“This command numbers about 4,000. The mayor of Tinian and Agrigan has already asked the U.S. military to consider these islands for the buildup. Agrigan is uninhabited and the federal government already has a long-term lease for the northern two-thirds of Tinian,” she told Bice.
Guthertz, who chairs the Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security, said the Marines' movement should be spread over eight years instead of only two years from 2014.
Lastly, she suggested the reduction in size of the movement to Guam by 50 percent-for about 4,000 active duty Marines.
“This would still provide a greater than 100 percent jump in footprint, but provide a greater welcome mat for our Marines,” she told Bice.
The Futenma issue has become a sticking point in the military realignment talks.
The recent election of an anti-base mayor in Nago made it more difficult to move Marine air operations and led to a growing sentiment among Okinawans to move Futenma operations outside Okinawa and outside Japan.