Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
I had the opportunity of paying a visit to the sites opposing the American military base at Henoko (Okinawa) and the construction of the Takae heliport.
Most probably you know that offshore of Takae there is a seaweed field where a number of dugong (sea cows) can be seen. The plan to construct a military base there will greatly damage them as well as the ecosystem. And since it could also ruin the rich fisheries, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and groups for the preservation of nature have demanded Japan to review those plans. The extinction of many species of flora and fauna and the life of the people of rural villages making their living there are in danger. And as a result many oppose the construction.
Ecology preservation groups, antiwar and other NGOs from inside and outside Okinawa rush together to those sites whenever new moves take place and conduct sit-downs in tents by turns. Local fishermen and villagers often organize the protest movements and outside people support their action.
One can see among the participants in the sit-downs whole families with their children and farmers changing by turns and sending information on the new developments. During my visit I received the impression that the people continue their protests to preserve the basis of their daily lives.
Again, the residents are not uniformly against the plans. In the case of Henoko, the fishermen that took up their position by the harbor complained to the mass media reporters gathered there that the harbor facilities are not functioning well and normal activities do not take place. On the other hand, they oppose the construction of military bases and of the heliport. Outsiders can realize the difficulties born from the continuation of the protest movement under various situations and points of view that go across each other.
And with regard to Takae, I just received at the end of the year mail messages with pictures telling of the developments there. They said that the residents of Takae demanded to meet with the authorities to discuss the construction of the problematic heliport but, Okinawa's Self Defense Bureau not only withdrew the demand but raised a provisional disposition plea to forbid the sit-downs even of small children.
The morning edition of the local Okinawa Times (27/12/2008) reported that the Department of Defense of Okinawa had issued a provisional disposition plea to the residents conducting sit- downs in protest for the transferring and building of a new heliport in Takae's Higashi Village, forbidding them the obstruction of traffic. These are unusual developments in the relations between the government and the residents concerning the military bases. The provisional plea also includes a small child.
The clause concerning a small child was finally pulled down but the one related to adults still remained. Some people believe that this is a sign that the Department of Defense will try all possible ways to go ahead with the construction smoothly. As a consequence of the reporting in the media, the intentions of the Department of Defense exposing openly the opposition of the residents making use even of a child and the fact that the lives of people living peacefully in far away hamlets cannot be protected resulted in detecting troubles accompanying national construction programs.
Thus, lawyers from the side of the residents as well as from Okinawa province decided to join a lawyers' organization to fight in court at a national level. The State increased the suppression of anti-military bases citizens' movements by using legal means and political pressure, hinting at the possibility of using similar techniques against the opposition at Henoko in Nago City. Once more the courts will bring to account the pros and cons of building military bases.
The year 2009 has started but, because the antagonism between the locals and the government continues, the peaceful days at Henoko and Takae are still far away. Since the suffering of the residents is not over I would like people to pay attention to them.
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