The US has returned 9,909 acres of land on the island of Okinawa to Japan in what the New York Times calls the "the largest transfer of land" since the US officially returned the island to Japan in 1972. In exchange, Japan has built six helipads to be kept in US control. US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy says this "milestone … demonstrates America's continued determination to reduce the impact of our presence" on Okinawa, while the US military notes US-controlled land on the island has been reduced by 17%, reports CNN. But far from applauding the move, activists who've campaigned for years against US military presence on Okinawa have gathered to protest and say they feel "betrayed" by their government.
As a rep for activist group Peace Okinawa puts it to CNN, "Okinawa alone is host to 74% of the US' military bases in Japan. The return of this land only reduces this presence to 71%." A resident adds the helipads are "nothing but an intensifying of the bases." Activists have long called for the removal US military bases allowed under US-Japanese security agreements as American sailors and contractors have been accused or convicted of rape, murder, drunk driving, and other crimes. Residents have also complained about noise and accidents; an Osprey aircraft crash-landed into the sea just last week. As the new helipads are located near residential areas, activists fear the helicopters will endanger Okinawa residents. (Read more Japan stories.)