Japan to suspend construction for US base relocation in Okinawa

TOKYO: Japan's government will accept a court-mediated settlement plan and suspend construction work for the planned relocation of a US airbase in Okinawa and will begin a new round of talks with local authorities who want the base moved off the island.

The government in Tokyo and authorities in the southern island of Okinawa have long been at loggerheads over the relocation of the US Marines airbase at Futenma, an urban area on the island.

Tokyo wants to move the base to a less populated area but Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga wants the base off the island altogether.

Abe's government had already suspended construction work voluntarily for a month last year to allow time for talks with island authorities, but failed to achieve a meaningful solution.

He said the government's stance that relocating the Futenma base within the island was the only option had not changed. However, the government would again suspend construction work to give talks another chance to succeed.

"There is no change to the government's stance that the relocation to the Henoko area is the sole choice for the restoration of the Futenma base," Abe told reporters.

"But, if the current situation, in which the government and Okinawa prefecture are suing each other, continues, the Futenma base ... might very well remain fixed there for years to come," he said.

The United States and Japan agreed in 1996 to close Futenma and move its facilities elsewhere on the island. However, relocation stalled due to opposition from Okinawa residents worried about noise, pollution and crime.