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US unit moves from Okinawa to main island

A US military unit is moving from Okinawa to Japan's main island for the first time since a 1996 bilateral agreement on relocating the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station.

On Tuesday, 2 KC-130 tankers for aerial refueling flew to a US base in Iwakuni, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, western Japan, from Futenma. The station is in a densely populated area in the southernmost prefecture.

At a departure ceremony, Deputy Commanding General Paul Kennedy of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force said the move will reduce noise for local residents.

Okinawa Vice Governor Kurayoshi Takara said the redeployment is a first step toward removing the danger of Futenma. He added that it's important to work steadily to carry out the relocation.

The US Marine Corps says it plans to implement the move in stages and redeploy all of the unit's 15 aircraft by the end of August.

It also says the KC-130 aircraft will fly regularly to Okinawa on training exercises, so it remains to be seen how much the move will reduce the prefecture's burden.

At the Iwakuni base, hangars and other facilities have been prepared for the new unit. About 800 US soldiers and their families are to live in the city.

The central and local governments are being urged to solve problems such as securing safety and aircraft noise.

Jul. 15, 2014 - Updated 09:21 UTC