Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan apologized on Wednesday to the people of Okinawa for having to shoulder the burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan and offered thanks to the islanders for Okinawa's role in contributing to the security of the Asia-Pacific region, said reports from Naha, capital of Japan's southernmost Okinawa Prefecture, Xinhua reported.
"I offer an apology as a representative of all Japanese people, " Kan was quoted as saying at a memorial ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, in which 150,000 local people were killed.
"I want to express my gratitude for the fact that this burden contributes to the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region," the prime minister said and reiterated his pledge to reduce the burden and risks associated with Okinawa hosting the bases.
"I promise to seriously try all the more to reduce Okinawa's burden of the U.S. bases and removing the dangers associated with Futenma," he said.
Kan told the people of Okinawa that he was committed to abiding by the Japan-U.S. accord announced on May 28 to move the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from a crowded residential area in the city of Ginowan to a less populated coastal area in Henoko also in Okinawa Prefecture, local reports said.
Okinawa residents and prefectural officials have voiced their ardent opposition to the relocation plan, the bungled handling of which caused Kan's predecessor Yukio Hatoyama to hastily resign as prime minister following his failure to make good on his numerous pledges to move the Futenma facility "at least" outside Okinawa.
Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who was in attendance at the ceremony, said that the base hosting burden on Japan's southernmost prefecture was disproportionate compared to the rest of the country.
"I would like the burden on Okinawa to be visibly reduced," he said.
More than 5,000 people attended the ceremony held at Peace Memorial Park in Itoman city where rows of black stones are engraved with names of those who died in the 82-day battle -- including service people and civilians on both sides.
Some 94,000 civilians were killed in the three-month battle between Japanese and U.S. troops in 1945 and the island remained under U.S. occupation up until 1972.
Wednesday also marked the 50th anniversary of the bilateral security treaty between Japan and the U.S. which led to the current and substantial U.S. military presence in Japan, of which 75 percent of the land used by the U.S. forces in Japan is in Okinawa.