OSAKA -- A third-party panel on Friday began reviewing the government's decision last month to suspend Okinawa Prefecture's decision to revoke permission for a landfill project at Henoko, where U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is scheduled to be relocated.
The government-appointed Central and Local Government Dispute Management Council acts under the internal affairs ministry to mediate disputes between local governments and Tokyo.
The first of what will be several such meetings took place a day after the Okinawa Defense Bureau recommenced a drilling survey of the seabed after a four-month break, due, it said, to the typhoon season.
The council is expected to rule by the end of January on land minister Keiichi Ishii's declaration that Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga's decision to cancel permission was illegal.
However, it will likely be only the first shot in a legal battle between Okinawa and the central government that could take years to resolve.
In suspending Onaga's decision, Ishii said that if he did not, it would be impossible to continue the base relocation project. He added that the current base still presents risks to residents near Futenma.
Tensions are high in Henoko. Dozens of anti-base protesters routinely gather in front of the gates of Camp Schwab, where construction is taking place and where police from Okinawa and Tokyo clash with them. Anti-base protests have also taken place in Henoko Bay, where protesters in canoes have squared off against police boats.
Surveys have been scheduled for two dozen locations on the seabed off Henoko, and 19 have been completed.
While Okinawa officials insist that work should be suspended during the legal process, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has indicated construction can continue.