Authorities and ordinary citizens on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa have conveyed to U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy their opposition to the construction of a new American military base.
Kennedy, now visiting the island, met with the mayor of Nago, a tourist town where the new base is to be built.
Susumu Inamine spoke to Kennedy about local opposition to the base, which is to be built in a coastal area containing coral reefs that serve as habitat for the dugong, a marine herbivorous mammal, the NHK network reported Thursday.
Inamine, who was recently reelected on a platform of opposition to the project, urged the ambassador to pass on the concerns of Nago's inhabitants to President Barack Obama.
Kennedy did not weigh in on the plan to transfer the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to Nago, but she told Inamine that she understood the position of local residents, the mayor told the Kyodo news agency.
The ambassador, who on Thursday visited Camp Schwab and the adjacent bay where Futenma is to be relocated, told reporters it was important to work "together to reduce the burden of the military presence here."
Kennedy has been met by protests from local residents opposed to the base project since her arrival on the island, Japan's southernmost prefecture, on Tuesday.
Japan and the United States agreed in 1996 to transfer the controversial base, currently located in the center of Ginowan, a city of 94,000 inhabitants, to a section of Okinawa's northeastern coastline near Nago.
But that process has been stalled for years amid fierce opposition from politicians and the local population of Okinawa, who are demanding that the base be moved off the island altogether.
Around 26,000 U.S. service members are stationed on Okinawa, where resentment over the foreign military presence has been strong for years.
Residents complain about the dangers posed by the proximity of bases to heavily populated areas and about crimes committed by service members.
The most serious episode was in 1995, when three U.S. servicemen abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl. EFE