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Dispute resolution panel throws out Okinawa request to reinstate landfill ban

TOKYO -- A panel for the resolution of disputes between the central and local governments turned down a request from the Okinawa Prefectural Government on Feb. 18 that the council recommend land minister Keiichi Ishii drop his suspension of Okinawa's retraction of landfill permission to relocate a controversial U.S. military base inside the southernmost prefecture.

The decision by the Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council -- a third-party body attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications -- is bound to intensify tensions between the state and the prefectural government as Okinawa is now poised to sue the internal affairs minister seeking the nullification of Ishii's decision.

The prefecture will have a local referendum on Feb. 24 on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan to the city of Nago in the same prefecture, in a bid to show local opposition against the central government project.

The council reviews complaints from local bodies about central government actions, and makes corrective recommendations when it finds the central government's moves are illegal or unfair. As for the Okinawa complaint, however, the panel simply threw it out saying the case is not under its jurisdiction. The suspension was based on the Administrative Complaint Review Act, while the council is under the Local Autonomy Act and therefore does not handle the case, according to the panel. The council also made no judgment if the land minister's decision was illegal or not.

Council chairman Kazuhiro Tomikoshi told reporters that the latest decision was unanimous among the panel's five members. In response, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said in a statement that he "deeply regrets" the finding, adding that the prefectural government will determine its response after examining the council's official notification.

In August last year, the prefecture retracted its earlier approval for reclamation work in the waters off the coast of the Henoko district in Nago to relocate the Futenma facility.

Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Ishii then temporarily suspended the prefecture's retraction in October, in response to a complaint from the Okinawa Defense Bureau of the Ministry of Defense.

Prefectural officials criticized the move saying the land minister was in no position to take such action as he was promoting the landfill work.

The rejection of an Okinawan complaint by the dispute resolution council is the second one after a December 2015 decision. Local governments unhappy with the panel's judgment can appeal it to the high court within 30 days of a panel ruling.

(Japanese original by Jun Aoki, Political News Department, and Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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