People protesting the construction of U.S. military helipads continue a sit-in in the Takae district of Higashi, a village in the northern region of Okinawa Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
HIGASHI, Okinawa Prefecture--Governor Takeshi Onaga slammed the Defense Ministry for its preparations to resume the long-stalled project to build U.S. military helipads here the day after local candidates backed by anti-base voters won big in the Upper House election.
“The central government’s strong push to proceed with the project right after the Upper House election significantly undermines the trust with the prefectural government and Okinawans, and it is totally unacceptable,” Onaga said at a hastily called news conference on the night of July 11.
Earlier that day, the ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau began work toward the resumption of the project to build helipads near the Takae district of Higashi, a village in the prefecture’s northern region.
Japan and the United States agreed in 1996 to return about half of the land for Camp Gonsalves, the 7,800-hectare U.S. Marine Corps training area straddling Higashi and neighboring village Kunigami. The agreement was on the condition that six helipads would be built in the vicinity of Takae.
Construction started in 2007 and two were completed by 2014.
But the project was suspended after opponents blockaded a path to the construction sites, stopping vehicles carrying materials from entering. They oppose the construction, citing the proximity of the helipads to the residential area of Takae.
According to the bureau, vehicles loaded with equipment entered the camp through the main gate of the training area early on July 11.
The entrance is about 2 kilometers from the supply gate where protesters continue to stage a sit-in to hinder the project.
The bureau’s move came at a time a meeting for the central and prefectural governments is scheduled for July 14 over the helipad construction and other U.S. base issues.
Okinawa is home to 74 percent of the U.S. military installations in Japan.
Onaga told the news conference that the prefectural government has received a letter from land minister Keiichi Ishii urging that the illegal occupation of the path by protesters be resolved.