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Background

Photo Credit: Osamu Makishi

The U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is located in the center of a densely populated area in Ginowan City in Okinawa. This base generates accidents and crimes on a regular basis. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called Futenma the “most dangerous U.S. base in the world.” This base must be closed immediately.

According to a 2006 U.S.-Japanese agreement, the United States would close the Futenma base and relocate roughly 8,000 Marines to Guam. But this relocation is conditioned on the transfer of functions to a new base planned for Henoko, an environmentally sensitive area in the middle of Okinawa island.

Ten years earlier, after the announcement of the first base relocation and expansion proposal in 1996, Henoko residents started an organization called Inochi o mamoru kai (Association for the Protection of Life). Within a decade, their movement grew to include international environmentalists. By 2010, the movement to close Futenma and save Henoko from new military construction had grown prefecture-wide, with pro-democracy and environmentalist supporters from throughout Japan and overseas.

Close to Henoko, a U.S. war training ground occupies a quarter of biodiverse Yanbaru forest on the northern tip of Okinawa. The U.S. military trained there during Vietnam War, and now wants to build six helipads for dangerous V-22 Osprey aircraft within two of the best-preserved areas in the forest, near Takae village.

Takae residents have engaged in a sit-in since 2007 to protest the construction of military heliports in Yanbaru Forest, home of unique endangered species. In late 2010, the Japanese government began forcibly restarting construction and a U.S. military helicopter destoryed a sit-in tent. Okinawan peace and democracy groups are engaged in nonviolent action to stop construction.

Yanbaru Forest and the area around Henoko are biodiversity treasure troves. We must save threatened endangered species including the Okinawa woodpecker, the dugong, and sea turtle. Okinawa does not need V-22 Osprey helipads in Yanbaru Forest or a new military base — in Henoko or elsewhere on the island.