US to return Okinawa air base area to Japan

Okinawa base
Image caption Japan-US ties have been strained over Okinawa bases and troops in the past

Japan and the US have agreed plans to return land near the Kadena US air base on Okinawa to Japan.

The move will see many US troops relocated outside of Japan.

Japan also announced a revised timetable for relocating the controversial Futenma US air base. Original plans to relocate by 2014 were stalled by local opposition.

There has been a US military presence on Okinawa since the US invaded the island during World War II.

The plans call for an immediate return of certain facilities and areas on Okinawa.

Additional locations will also be returned once replacement facilities are constructed and large contingents of US Marine Corps relocate outside of Japan to Guam and Hawaii, according to a statement from the US military.

The US has not said how many troops will be redeployed.

Once implemented, the plans will see approximately 1000 hectares of land returned to Japan.

Ongoing dispute

Under new plans, the Futenma base will be moved after 2021.

The base, near Naha city, has soured ties between the two allies in the past.

Locals say having a military facility so near the city is dangerous and noisy, and want it removed from the island altogether.

Occasional well-publicised instances of bad behaviour and criminality by US personnel fuelled the concerns.

A 2006 agreement between the US and Japan stated that the base must be relocated before the troops were redeployed. However in 2011, the two sides agreed to "de-link" the two issues.

Under the 2006 agreement, the US said it would move 8,000 marines to Guam once Futenma was shut down, leaving 10,000 on Okinawa.

That deal stalled amid local protests at the possible sites for relocation of the base.

The US has a total military deployment in Japan of about 50,000 personnel.