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As Okinawa marks 40 years of postwar sovereignty, US bases still an irritant

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After failing to win local support for Futenma's relocation, Tokyo and Washington finally delinked it from the troop transfer, announcing in late April that about 5,000 personnel would move to Guam, with another 4,000 or so spread around other bases in the region, including Hawaii and Australia. Futenma, however, will stay put for the time being.

The 1995 abduction and rape of a local 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen prompted the US and Japan to find ways of lessening the military presence on Okinawa, which makes up less than 1 percent of Japan's total area, yet hosts three-quarters of all US bases and just under half its 47,000 troops in the country.

Despite recent progress on the troop transfer, Japan's government has failed to persuade the people of Henoko, a town located along a largely unspoiled stretch of coastline, to agree to host Futenma's envisaged offshore replacement.

The government's job has been made harder by opposition among potential host communities elsewhere in Japan. Sympathy for the people of Okinawa – where 20 percent of the land is occupied by the US military – has not been matched by a willingness to share the burden.

But resolving the Futenma issue is less urgent now that agreement has been reached on reducing the troop headcount on Okinawa, according to Jun Okumura, a Japan analyst at the Eurasia Group political risk and consulting firm.

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