Residents of Okinawa, Japan’s southernmost prefecture and host to majority of the United States military forces in Japan, took to the streets in protest on Tuesday after the crash of another U.S. military helicopter on Monday during the U.S. forces’ exercises and training. The residents echoed what has been a repetitive call from Okinawa protesters – the suspension of exercises by U.S. forces and ultimately, the removal of the military bases. Around 200 Okinawans gathered in front of a gate of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan following the crash of a HH-60 rescue helicopter in a mountainous area within the Marines’ Camp Hansen, which lies just around 2 kilometers away from a residential area.
Safety has always been one of the major concerns of Okinawa residents regarding the U.S. military bases in the region. “I’m going to demand relevant ministries and agencies secure safe operations (of U.S. aircraft) and thoroughly investigate the accident,” said Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima. Also, five officials from Ginoza, Okinawa, entered Camp Hansen on Tuesday to personally check if the crash had caused undue pollution to a nearby dam, which is a main source of drinking water for the village.
One of the protesters was Ryokichi Chinen, 74, from the town of Chatan in Okinawa, who said that the U.S. forces “leave people’s lives on a back burner and give priority to military training.” Chinen said that these training flights by U.S. fighter jets and helicopters near residential areas cause safety concerns for all Okinawan residents. “U.S. military aircraft crashes could occur anytime. The military bases should be removed,” he said. The Okinawa protesters had already been gathered to protest another major issue, which is the additional deployment of MV-22 vertical take-off and landing Osprey aircraft to the Futenma due to the poor safety record of the said tilt-rotor aircraft. Reacting to the HH-60 helicopter crash, the U.S. Marines forces revealed on Monday that they would be postponing the deployment of 10 more Osprey transport aircraft to the Futenma facility. At present, 14 Ospreys are deployed at the Futenma base to replace aging CH-46 helicopters.
[via Global Post]