Originally posted at Okinawa Outreach, a website managed by Masami mel Kawamura and Hideki Yoshikawa.
Save Takae ! Voice your opposition to the resumed US helipad construction !
On November 15, the Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) returned to Takae in the Yanbaru forest to resume the construction of six new helipads for US military for the first time in 8 months.
According to Yamashiro Hiroji, a sit-in protester, about 70 people including 30 OBD staff members and 30 security guards showed up around 10:18 am in front of the Gate of N-4 Point with heavy machinery, demanding that the local residents and their supporters make way for them to resume the construction work.
Shortly after arrival of the ODB, about 40 people from various parts of Okinawa came to join the local residents and their supports to stage a larger sit-in protest against the ODB’s move.
The stand-off between the two sides became intensified as several construction crew members sneaked into the construction site. With the machinery kept outside the construction site, however, the ODB was unable to do much work.
On November 16 and 17, ignoring the local residents and supporters’ protest and call for dialogue, the ODB again returned to Takae in attempts to resume the construction work with force. They were however kept outside the construction site by the local residents and their supporters and were not able to conduct much work.
Isa Masatsugu, one of the members of No Helipad Takae Resident Society, said, “It is unacceptable that ODB resumed the construction work while the [Takae] lawsuit is still pending”[About Takae lawsuit, see the information pasted below] (Okinawa Times, Nov.16, 2011). He also said, ” I can’t understand why it is now that they came to resume the construction. I assume that they want to demonstrate to the US and Japanese governments that they are proceeding with their work” (Ryukyu Shimpo, Nov. 16, 2011).
In the background of Isa’s comment is a political context that the Japanese government is now facing deadlock in implementing the SACO agreement. In particular, while Tokyo wants to push forward the new US base construction plan at Henoko/Oura Bay by submitting Environment Impact Statement by the end of this year, Okinawa Govenor, Okinawa Assembly, Diet members from Okinawa and peace and environmental groups all strongly oppose the construction plan.
Since it is unlikely that the Japanese government can get Okinawan people’s acceptance, they are now placed under increasing pressure to show Washington they are moving forward steadily in implementing SACO. (Regarding EIS, please see this article from The Japan Times: “Ichikawa adds new Futenma hurdle:Defense chief now says Okinawa must approve base move before getting environmental report”)
Meanwhile, on November 16, to protest against the Japanese government’s treatment of Okinawa and to show solidarity with Takae, supporters, including members of Committee against Construction of US Military Base in Henoko, Yuntaku Takae and Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa, held a demonstration in front of the building of the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo.
We would like to call for your attention and action to support Takae people. Here are what you can do:
・Check Takae blog (in Japanese) and Okinawa Outreach Facebook Group for update on Helipad construction in Takae.
・Spread update on Takae to make the issue known to the world.
・Express your objection to the construction of helipads in Takae by writing to the Okinawa Defense Bureau and the Japanese government.
- Japan Ministry of Defense
-Okinawa Defense Bureau
・Write to Takae people. Your words will encourage Takae people to keep on with their struggle to protect Yanbaru forest and their life. You can leave your comment on their blog.
[Information on Takae]
- Here is the youtube video clip of “Message from Yanbaru” with English subtitles (about 10 minutes). It is a short documentary on Takae’s nature, people’s life, and their struggle to stop US helipad construction.
- As for details of helipad construction and Yanbaru forest, please see the excerpt pasted below from the website of Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa (Feb.12, 2011)
[Yanbaru Forest]Located in the northern area of Okinawa Island, the Yanbaru forest (about 26, 000 ha) is one of the richest areas of biodiversity in Japan. It is home to over 1,000 species of highplants and 5,000 species of animals, including numerous indigenous and endemic species such as the endangered Okinawa Woodpecker and Okinawa Rail. It is also home to people who live in small and isolated communities. Takae is one of these communities.
The Okinawa prefectural government promotes the Yanbaru forest as a key areain its efforts to get the Ryukyu Islands designated as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. The Japanese government announced its intentions to designatethe Yanbaru forest as a national park during the 10th Conference of Parties to the Convention for Biological Diversity (COP10) held recently in Nagoya, Japan.
[Helipad Construction] Since 1957, the US military has been using a large part of the Yanbaru forest for training. Today, 30% of the Yanbaru forest is a US military training area. In this training area, there are already 22 frequently used US helipads, causing various problems to the environment and the nearby local communities. Thus, since the construction plan was revealed in 1999, local people, NGOs, and expertshave been opposing to the plan and expressing their concerns that the construction of new helipads in the Takae area will certainly further impact the Yanbaru forest and the Takae community.
After conducting its Environment Impact Assessment for the helipad construction plan, the Okinawa Defense Bureau has concluded that the construction and use of the helipads would have no impact on the environment and the community. While local people, NGOs, and scientific/experts have criticized theEIA for its lack of transparency, accuracy, and reliability, the Okinawa Defense Bureau has beenproceeding with the construction plan, based on the EIA’s “no-impact” conclusion.
International voices, meanwhile, have been loud and clear. The International Unionof Conservation for Nature (IUCN) has twice called for conservation of the endangered Okinawa Woodpaker and Okinawa Rail in the forest. On the occasion of COP10in Nagoya, the Guardian newspaper urged the Okinawa Defense Bureau to “consider alternative sites [for helipad construction] that will not impactOkinawa’s unique biodiversity.”
This is why the residents of the Takae community and many others have beenopposing the construction plan and calling for explanation and dialogue with the Okinawa Defense Bureau.（For info on actions taken by local communities, NGOs, and scientific communities, please see the list below).
[Okinawa Defense Bureau Filed Lawsuit] So far, the Okinawa Defense Bureau has shown no willingness to resolve the criticism and concerns. Instead, it has reacted to the local opposition by filing a lawsuit against residents of the Takae community for obstruction of traffic in November 2008, who were engaged in a peaceful sit in protestagainst the helipad construction.
In what many consider a “SLAPP lawsuit,” the court has ordered both the Okinawa Defense Bureau and the local residents to enter negotiation outside of court. Negotiation has not, however, has taken place as the Okinawa Defense Bureau keeps declining to negotiate.
It is in light of these developments that the Okinawa Defense Bureaumarched in and began felling trees in the Takae area of the Yambaruforest and the stand off between the Okinawa Defense Bureau and the protesters has intensified.
-For more English information on Takae is available on:
Voice of Takae (No Helipad Takae Resident Society)
No Military Helipads in Yanbaru Forest (WWF-Japan)
Yanbaru Forest Under Attack ECO vol.36-1. p.13 (Hideki Yoshikawa, Chief Secretariat, Citizens’ Network for Biological Diversity in Okinawa)