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Okinawa governor irked that Abe-Obama talks didn’t touch on revising SOFA

Kyodo

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Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed disappointment Wednesday that the U.S. and Japanese leaders failed to show a willingness to respond to calls to revise a bilateral accord defining the handling of U.S. base personnel in Japan in the wake of the arrest of a civilian U.S. base worker over the death of a local woman.

“It is extremely regrettable that there was no mention of amending the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement,” Onaga told reporters in Naha, referring to the press conference after the meeting Wednesday evening between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Onaga said people in Okinawa “have been forced to bear the heavy burden of hosting the bases.”

“Unless the accord is revised, the concerns the people of Okinawa have over the bases will not be allayed,” he added.

Abe and Obama met soon after the U.S. president arrived in central Japan Wednesday evening to attend a two-day Group of Seven summit beginning the following day.

In the latest case, the 1960 accord has not posed any obstacles to investigations. But people in Okinawa have complained that the accord is overly protective of Americans, partly because it allows a suspect to cooperate with Japanese investigations only on a voluntary basis in some cases.

At the joint press conference, Abe said he called on the United States to take effective and thorough measures to prevent similar incidents, while emphasizing the need to improve the operation of the SOFA if problems arise.

Obama asserted the SOFA “does not in any way prevent the full prosecution and the need for justice under the Japanese legal system” and said the United States will be “fully cooperating with the Japanese legal system in prosecuting this individual.”

The incident was a key topic in the Abe-Obama meeting after a contractor at the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena Air Base in Okinawa was arrested last week over the death of a 20-year-old woman. Investigative sources have said the former U.S. Marine has admitted killing the woman after sexually assaulting her.

The incident has reignited anti-U.S. base sentiment in Okinawa.

On Wednesday, about 4,000 people gathered near the Kadena base to protest and complain about the U.S. military presence, according to the event organizer.

“These kind of incidents should never be allowed to happen again,” the gathering was told by Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who is against the planned relocation of a key U.S. air base from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, both in Okinawa.

Inamine also argued that the number of crimes committed by U.S. military and civilian base personnel will not decline as long as so many are stationed in Okinawa.

Miyoko Ashimine, a 69-year-old Ginowan citizen, said: “U.S. military-linked incidents show no signs of ending. We can’t take it anymore.”

A massive protest rally is scheduled on June 19, which is likely to attract tens of thousands of people.