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Gov't to turn down settlement offers over U.S. base relocation plan to Henoko

NAHA -- The central government is set to reject the two proposals for settlement with the Okinawa Prefectural Government that were offered by the Fukuoka High Court Naha branch over the U.S. base relocation plan, sources close to the government said.

    The national government sued the prefectural government in November last year, demanding that Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga undo his revocation of approval for landfill work off the Henoko district in the city of Nago, which is a preparatory step for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the coastal area.

    The court proposed the two settlement ideas after the third oral proceedings on Jan. 29. One resolution plan requests the central government to drop the lawsuit, suspend the base relocation work, and negotiate again with the Okinawa government. The other one proposes that Okinawa withdraw the revocation of landfill approval while the central government negotiates with the United States over plans to either return the facility in Henoko within 30 years of initial use, or make it into a shared military-private facility.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga avoided commenting on the matter at a news conference on Feb. 3, saying that the court has asked the involved parties not to disclose details.

    Okinawa Gov. Onaga also did not comment on the issue when speaking to reporters at Naha Airport on the same day, saying, "The court has told us not to reveal anything. I will not comment (on the matter)."

    Neither the central nor Okinawa government is likely to accept the second settlement idea. A senior prefectural government official said the proposal is based on the assumption that the landfill work is carried out in Henoko, and that it will be far from acceptable in light of Gov. Onaga's campaign promises wherein he said that Okinawa will never allow a new U.S. military base in Henoko.

    The central government is also not considering a scenario wherein the U.S. accepts the time-limited use of the new base as proposed in the second settlement offer, which additionally contradicts the deterrence theory that both Japan and the U.S. have put forth.

    A source close to the government points out, moreover, that the 1,200-meter runway currently planned for the new base will have little benefit in the shared use between the military and private sectors.

    Meanwhile, the first settlement proposal received divided feedback. While Okinawa admits that the plan offers similar resolutions to the prefectural government's argument over the base relocation plan, there will be no judgment on whether the ways that the central government executes policies are legal or illegal. Okinawa also says that the first proposal would only postpone conclusion of the base relocation issue.

    The central government, on the other hand, is unlikely to accept the first settlement proposal because as soon as the national government accepts those conditions, it will lose legal grounds for the landfill work -- thereby delaying the process of the relocation plan. A high-ranking government official said that the central government has already executed administrative subrogation to overturn Okinawa's revocation, and indicated that there is little room for compromise.

    In case the central government and the Okinawa government do not reach a settlement, the legal proceedings will conclude by the end of February. A ruling is then expected by this spring.

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