The United States will immediately notify Japan if a service member in the country deserts or otherwise goes absent without leave and will authorize police to take that person into custody if found, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Friday.
The U.S. agreed to this condition, based on a special Japanese criminal law related to the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement, in the wake of a recent spate of serious crimes allegedly committed by servicemen, including the March slaying of a taxi driver in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, for which a suspected U.S. Navy deserter is being held, according to the Foreign Ministry.
“The Japanese government will be notified, too,” Komura told reporters Friday morning.
Since 2005, nine U.S. service members have deserted U.S. bases or units in Japan, four of whom were arrested by Japanese police and another two by the U.S. military. Two voluntarily returned to their units and one still remains missing, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Under the SOFA, the U.S. is not obliged to report to the Japanese side when it becomes aware of deserters from its Japan installations.
But the March 19 killing of the cabby in Yokosuka, allegedly by a 22-year-old U.S. Navy Seaman Olatunbosun Ugbogu, shocked local residents and prompted the two countries to explores ways to soothe fears of crimes involving U.S. military personnel in Japan.
The U.S. forces did not notify Japan after Ugbogu, a crewman from the cruiser USS Cowpens, which is deployed to Yokosuka, had not returned to the base since March 8.
Ugbogu, a Nigerian national, was apprehended by U.S. Navy personnel in Tokyo’s Gotanda district on March 22. He was handed over to Kanagawa Prefectural Police and arrested on April 3 in connection with the robbery-murder of the taxi driver.
The murder followed, among other crimes, an alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by a U.S. Marine in Okinawa, which sparked waves of protests among locals as well as Japanese politicians.
The alleged crimes also coincided with attempts by the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, to block the extension of a special accord concerning Japan’s host-nation support budget for U.S. military installations.
The accord is expected to be voted down in the opposition-controlled Upper House, but will be eventually passed because it has been already approved by the ruling bloc-controlled Lower House.
The DPJ has claimed the current financial support includes considerable unnecessary expenditures, including personnel costs for entertainment facilities for U.S. personnel in Japan.
The alleged rape in Okinawa prompted opposition parties and 14 prefectural governors to call for a revision of the SOFA. Japanese authorities declined to press charges.