Japanese islanders to reject US base in letter to Obama

TOKYO, April 14, 2010 (AFP) - The mayors of three towns on a Japanese island reportedly slated to host a US military base said Wednesday they will write to President Barack Obama to tell him they reject their government's plan.

The row centres around their government's decision to review a 2006 agreement to allow the relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma, on Okinawa, from an urban area to a quieter coastal part of the island.

Media have reported that Japan's government is planning to transfer the base to Tokunoshima, an island in Kagoshima prefecture, north of Okinawa.

The government has not confirmed the reports but Tokunoshima's residents have voiced opposition to any such plan, with about 4,000 holding a rally in protest against it last month.

The mayors of the three towns on Tokunoshima, with a combined population of around 27,000, have now drafted a letter to send to US President Barack Obama, one of the three mayors, Akira Okubo, told AFP.

A draft of the letter says: "We, all the islanders, protest against the Futenma air base relocation to Tokunoshima.

"Our island is subtropical and still remains a rich natural environment," the mayors write. "We would love to leave this beautiful Tokunoshima as it is now to the next generation."

The island is part of the Amami archipelago, seen as strategically important as it is close to both North Korea and the Taiwan Strait -- two potential hotspots that could require US military deployment.

The mayors are preparing to stage another protest rally Sunday, which they say will involve about 10,000 residents.

"We'll also send the photos of the rally to the president," Okubo said.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has struggled for months to find a solution that will satisfy the people of Okinawa island, part of Japan's southernmost prefecture, and the security demands of the United States, its key ally.

Hatoyama said Tuesday in Washington that he had promised Obama he would resolve the row by end May, despite the fact that Okinawa's residents have long resented the heavy US military presence.

Japanese media have speculated Hatoyama might have to resign if he fails to resolve the row before this self-imposed deadline expires.

The Obama administration insists on adhering to the 2006 relocation plan but has promised to consider any counter-proposals. However, some US officials have privately voiced exasperation at what they see as the Japanese government's indecisiveness.

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