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Issue #1581      February 13, 2013

Residents’ protest forces closure of SDF training site

Japan’s Self-Defence Forces’ helicopters training field will be closed without conducting a single training exercise in Tahara City, Aichi Prefecture. This was brought about by a 10-year-long tenacious struggle jointly made by local residents, environmental and peace organisations, and the Japanese Communist Party.

The training site was located on the top of Mt Otto on the Atsumi Peninsula. The mountain is designated as a special area of the Mikawa Wan Quasi-National Park. Breeding habitats of the goshawk and the grey-faced buzzard are on the mountain, and it is also on a flight path for migratory birds.

The site was used as a wireless telegraph facility by the former Japanese Army during the war and as a radio-relay centre by the Ground SDF after the war. In March 2003, the Defence Facilities Administration Agency (now Defence Ministry) announced that it will turn the 1,000-square metre area into a site for landing and takeoff training for helicopters of the GSDF Aviation School.

Following the announcement, local residents launched a signature campaign in protest against the construction plan. In the two districts in which Mt Otto is located, 70% and 73% of households respectively signed the petition. On March 22, 2004, a local assembly of the former Atsumi Town (merged into Tahara City in October 2005) adopted a resolution opposing the construction of a GSDF facility on Mt Otto.

The Defence Facilities Administration Agency received petitions from 64 organisations throughout Japan, including the Wild Bird Society of Japan and the Nature Conservation Society of Japan, calling for withdrawal of the planned construction.

However, the mayor of Tahara City in September 2005 concluded an agreement with the principal of the GSDF Aviation School to allow a limit of four rounds of helicopter trainings a month at the site. The construction of the training field was then completed in November 2005.

Even after the opening of the training field, residents and nature conservation groups continued their struggles to block flight training. The protestors carried out human chain actions encircling the training site as well as called on the Defence Agency (now Defence Ministry) to research conditions of raptors flying over and breeding on the mountain and have consultations with residents based on its research result.

In response to their request, the Defense Ministry in 2010 began a year-and-half environmental research project concerning the training site. Then on December 5, 2012, at a meeting with residents’ representatives, it announced that it will give up using the site for SDF training based on many problematic issues it recognised, including environmental problems, and that it will return the site to the Finance Ministry.

Tahara City and the GSDF Aviation School will dissolve their 2005 agreement in March.

The JCP has taken part in the local efforts to block the construction plan since it was announced in 2003. At a Tahara City Assembly meeting in March 2004, a JCP representative revealed that a helicopter accident occurred at the GSDF Aviation School in February 2004 and urged the city to cancel the construction plan. A JCP House of Councillors member elected in the prefecture accompanied residents to make representations to the defence and environment ministries.

Anma Sin, a local resident who has led the local struggle, said, “The 10-year-long effort has made our final victory possible. The joint struggle, involving residents, environmental groups, and the JCP, was instrumental in achieving a favourable outcome.”

Japan Press Weekly   

Next article – Cameron in Blunderland

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