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Futenma mayor, lawmakers persist in search for military base

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 5, 2010) - A Japanese mayor and two lawmakers will be visiting Tinian on Thursday as part of an ongoing push in Japan to relocate thousands of troops from the U.S. Marine Corps Station Futenma in Okinawa to an outside location, including the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) island of Tinian.

Two-thirds of land on Tinian is leased to the U.S. military.

Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz, Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) and Rep. Trenton Conner (R-Tinian) separately confirmed yesterday with Saipan Tribune that the mayor of the town where the Futenma base is located, along with two members of the Japanese Diet, will be arriving on island on April 8.

The U.S. Marine Corps Station Futenma is located in Ginowan in Okinawa, Japan. The current mayor is Yoichi Iha.

Dela Cruz said one of the two visiting Japanese lawmakers was born on Tinian.

Hofschneider, chairman of the Tinian Legislative Delegation, said the mayor requested members of the delegation and the municipal council to be on island for the Japanese officials' visit.

Dela Cruz met with an advance party for the visiting Japanese officials on Saturday night, confirming the visit.

"I told him that I cannot make an official invitation because there's already an agreement between Japan and the U.S. government and they said they understand that," Dela Cruz said in a phone interview.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial told Dela Cruz during a budget meeting on Thursday: "I cannot support any movement by Japan to use the CNMI that will go against the federal government."

The Fitial administration has repeatedly said that the U.S. territory of the CNMI welcomes such relocation consideration "only if such plan is supported and approved by the U.S. federal government and the Department of Defense."

In recent months, Japanese officials have been visiting both Guam and the CNMI for talks related to the relocation of U.S. military personnel from Japan to the Marianas.

On Feb. 10, for example, visiting Japanese lawmakers said they may recommend the relocation of 2,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops from the aviation units at Futenma to the CNMI.

The up to 4,000 considered to be relocated to Tinian is in addition to the estimated 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents who are expected to be relocated by 2014, although Guam Gov. Felix P. Camacho asked for the military buildup to be delayed until after 2014.

The Tinian mayor is supportive of plans to relocate troops to the island, saying Tinian has waited for over 30 years for such movement to help boost the economy.

In Japan, the Social Democratic Party has been reported prioritizing a plan to move the Futenma base in Okinawa out of the country. This is reportedly among the options the party is considering presenting to a government committee studying the relocation of the Futenma base.

Among the candidate sites for relocating the Futenma base are the U.S. Pacific territories of Guam or the CNMI. If it's in the CNMI, it could be on Tinian or Saipan.

However, if the overseas relocation plan proves difficult to implement, the party will push two further proposals, which include accommodating drills and bases domestically.

While the CNMI looks to economic benefits associated with the relocation of troops, it has raised concerns with the Guam-CNMI military buildup's draft environmental impact statement.

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