Onaga doubts U.S. disciplinary measures in Okinawa, urges SOFA revision

JIJI, AP

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Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed doubts that a midnight curfew and other measures the U.S. military is taking will be effective at improving the discipline of the tens of thousands of U.S. troops in his prefecture.

Onaga spoke on Saturday with Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the head of U.S. forces in Okinawa, who explained the measures in place through June 24.

At a news conference the same day at a U.S. base in Okinawa, Nicholson said it was necessary to show respect.

“We should not be out shooting fireworks. We should not be out having large celebrations and parties while the Okinawan people are in mourning. If we really believe we are part of the Okinawan community, then we too must be in mourning, and we do.”

The Marine Corps commander said the measures are not punishment but an effort to respect the victim’s family and mourn with the people.

Under the restrictions, which took effect Friday, the 30,000 U.S. troops on the island will not be allowed to drink alcohol off base or visit clubs and bars. Upcoming festivals and concerts on the bases are being postponed till later in the summer.

Onaga said he understood that the U.S. military is being serious and sincere but said residents appear skeptical about how effective the measures will be.

Expanding on his phone conversations with Nicholson, Onaga told reporters that he said the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which defines jurisdiction over U.S. military and affiliated personnel in Japan who are involved in criminal matters, needs to be revised.

The U.S. restrictions were put into place after a 20-year-old Japanese woman’s body was recovered from a forest based on information from civilian base worker Kenneth Shinzato, 32, who was arrested after questioning on May 19.

Under Japanese law, Shinzato can be held for 21 days before charges are filed. The former Marine had married a Japanese woman and was working for a contractor that provided services to U.S. bases in Okinawa.

The arrest comes amid high tensions over a plan to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma further north to a less-populated part of Okinawa. About half of the U.S. troops stationed in Japan are based on the island, and many residents resent the burden they bear for the defense of Japan and the region. They want the base removed from Okinawa altogether.

Onaga requested a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama prior to the G-7 summit last week but was rejected by the Abe administration.

For his part, Nicholson said he is ready have a high-ranking U.S. military official hear the opinions of the people of Okinawa. Onaga accepted the offer.

Obama visited Hiroshima on Friday, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in the city since it was destroyed by the world’s first atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945, in the closing days of World War II.

Before the visit, he attended the two-day summit of the Group of Seven major industrial nations and the European Union in Mie Prefecture.