U.S. military rejects survey of buried cultural artifacts, cites supplementary agreement

June 28, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

On May 27, it was discovered that the U.S. Marine Corps refused a request by the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education to conduct surveys at three sites within U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma as part of an excavation project being carried out inside the base. The excavation project aims to recover buried cultural artifacts, and is overseen by the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education and the Ginowan Municipal Board of Education. The Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education made the request to excavate the three sites in fiscal 2015, and in November of last year, the Marine Corps denied the request, demanding that the prefecture submit any request on the basis of the Supplementary Environmental Agreement, an agreement between Japan and the United States that supplements the Status of Forces Agreement. However, at the request of the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the Ginowan Municipal Board of Education has been conducting its own cultural artifact survey within the base in preparation for the relocation of a U.S. military road that is needed due to construction of a new municipal road 11. It appears the U.S. is handling the two cases differently, revealing the fact that whether or not surveys can be conducted on base is entirely up to U.S. discretion.

The Supplementary Environmental Agreement stipulates that Japanese authorities are allowed to conduct environmental surveys and surveys of cultural artifacts on U.S. base land before it is returned to Japan. The Agreement was concluded in September 2015 between the Japanese and U.S. governments with the pretext that it would increase the Japanese government’s authority to conduct environmental surveys on U.S. bases.
The Prefectural Board of Education believes its request was denied due to wording in the Agreement stipulating that surveys may be conducted no more than seven months before the scheduled return date of the land. The Board plans to ask the Japanese government for permission to conduct its survey within the base, since Futenma will not be returned for at least seven to eight years, at which point it may be too late to conduct the survey.

The Prefectural Board of Education submitted a request to the U.S. Marine Corps in fiscal 2015 to survey three sites to the north of Futenma’s runways: the fifth and third Kiyuna Maehara sites, and the third Kiyuna Higashihara site.

Since the Board received no reply to its request until November of last year, it made an inquiry to the U.S. Marine Corps, which in turn sent a notification that the Supplementary Agreement would apply to all future cases.

On June 27, in response to an inquiry by the Ryukyu Shimpo, the U.S. Marine Corps replied that it was confirming the information and would respond as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, there are plans for Ginowan’s municipal road 11 to pass through the approximately four acres of land on the west side of Futenma that the Japanese and U.S. governments have announced will be returned within the year 2017.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau is working on relocating a U.S. military road and fence located within the land set to be returned. The Ginowan Municipal Board of Education is carrying out a survey of cultural artifacts in this area at the request of the Okinawa Defense Bureau.

The survey to be conducted by the Prefectural Board of Education aims to survey cultural artifacts and is funded by a budget from the central government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs. Meanwhile, the work relating to the construction of municipal road 11 is funded by a budget that comes from the Ministry of Defense.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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