TOKYO — The US military announced it had returned to the Japanese government the largest tract of land in more than 40 years, reducing American-administered areas on the southern island of Okinawa by 17 percent.
Japan has made “sufficient progress” in the construction of helipads and roads in the area, which were a condition of the return, US Forces Japan said in a statement. Staging sit-down protests, local people had delayed the construction of the new facilities in an area that is home to endangered plants and animals.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy attended a ceremony Wednesday in Tokyo to mark the handover of about 10,000 acres, about half of the Jungle Warfare Training Center in the north of the island.
The announcement comes a day after Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that the relocation of another US base in Okinawa could go ahead, despite the opposition of the governor and many residents.
The United States retained control of Okinawa after its World War II victory, returning the islands to Japan only in 1972.
Many local people resent the concentration of US troops and military facilities on the island, complaining of noise, pollution, and crime associated with the bases.