TOKYO --- A Japanese high court on Tuesday ordered the central government to pay damages to 3,400 residents living near a U.S. base in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa over military aircraft noise.
While upholding the Okinawa branch of the Naha District Court's ruling to pay compensation made in 2016, the upper court cut the compensation amount from 2.46 billion yen (22 million U.S. dollars) to 2.12 billion yen (19 million U.S. dollars).
The plaintiffs' demand that flights from the controversial U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, central to a relocation-linked spat between the Okinawa prefectural and central government, be suspended was also rejected by the upper court.
The prefectural government and the plaintiffs both appealed the court's decision not to suspend flights from the Futenma base.
Presiding Judge Masamichi Okubo, in handing down the court's ruling Tuesday, said that many of the residents are being subjected to a level of noise as a result of U.S. military aircraft, that are above acceptable levels and that this is in violation of their rights.
In dismissing the plaintiffs' demands for flights to be suspended, the court said that the Japanese (central) government "is not in a position to regulate the operation of U.S. military aircraft."
The plaintiffs had maintained that the government should "directly face the reality of damage caused to people's lives and provide relief to them."
Noise complaints, as well as those related to U.S. military-linked pollution and crime have long been the bane of residents in Okinawa.
The tiny subtropical island accounts for just a fraction off Japan's total land mass, yet hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan.
Tuesday's ruling comes as the central government, based on a pact made with the United States, is forging ahead with construction work in the coastal region of Henoko for a replacement facility for the Futenma base currently located in Nago, both in Okinawa.
Amid rising instances of mishaps and accidents involving U.S. military aircraft and criminal cases involving base-linked personnel, calls from Okinawans for their U.S. base-hosting burdens to be lifted have intensified of late.
In February, the majority of voters in a prefecture-wide referendum in Okinawa, rejected the government's plans to move the U.S. base to Henoko, calling for the Futenma base to be relocated off the island and out of Japan altogether against a backdrop of rising anti-U.S. sentiment on the island.