U.S. says difficult to move drills off Okinawa

TOKYO, Reuters

The top U.S. military officer on Okinawa said on Thursday it would be difficult to transfer some training drills from the southern Japanese island where residents are demanding a reduction in the troops, domestic media said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka said on Wednesday she had urged the United States, in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on Monday, to move some military training from Okinawa to the Pacific islands of Guam or Saipan or to the Philippines.

However, Lieutenant General Earl Hailston was quoted by Kyodo news agency as saying that while he agreed with the idea of a relocation, the islands of Guam and Saipan were not large enough to play host to the drills.

The issue of the U.S. military presence on Okinawa is also expected to be near the top of the agenda for talks between Japanese Defense Minister Gen. Nakatani and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scheduled for Friday in Washington.

The meeting will be followed by a summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. President George W. Bush at Camp David on June 30.

About 25,000 U.S. troops are stationed on Okinawa, just over a quarter of the total U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific.

A series of crimes involving U.S. military personnel has angered Okinawa residents, sparking increasing calls for a reduction in the number of troops on the island.

A backlash against the U.S. military in Japan erupted in 1995, when a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa was raped by three U.S. servicemen.