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Deal reached on U.S. base worker status in Japan

Kyodo

The Japanese and U.S. governments have agreed to narrow the extent to which American citizens can be granted preferential treatment under the bilateral pact that governs jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel and base workers, according to a draft agreement obtained Monday.

The move comes amid heightened calls by Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of the U.S. military bases in Japan, to revise the 1960 pact following the recent arrest of a U.S. civilian base worker in connection with the slaying of a local woman.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and Lt. Gen. John Dolan, commander of the U.S. military in Japan, are expected to announce the deal at a news conference Tuesday, a Japanese government source said.

Many people in Okinawa, which hosts about 75 percent of all U.S. military facilities in Japan in terms of land area, feel the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is one-sided and overly protective of Americans.

Under the review, the Japanese and U.S. governments have agreed to split the “civilian component” into four categories, as Okinawa and other local authorities hosting U.S. bases have said the scope of civilian workers covered by the current agreement is unclear.

Currently, the agreement merely defines the component as “civilian persons of United States nationality who are in the employ of, serving with, or accompanying the United States armed forces in Japan.”

Under the agreement, U.S. authorities in principle have the primary right of jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel or their “civilian component” if offenses are deemed to have been committed while on duty. In such cases, Japanese prosecutors cannot indict them.

According to the draft, the four new categories are: civilians paid by the U.S. government to work for the U.S. military in Japan; civilians working on ships and aircraft operated by the military; civilians working for the U.S. government and staying in Japan for official purposes related to the military; and technical advisers and consultants staying in Japan at the invitation of the military.

Making clear the categories will effectively lead to narrowing the range of civilians subject to preferential treatment, the government source said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to highlight his administration’s efforts to address Okinawa’s concerns ahead of the pivotal Upper House election on July 10.

Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense officials have been negotiating the bilateral pact since Nakatani and U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter agreed June 4 in Singapore to clarify the scope of American citizens subject to it.

Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, an American who worked in a civilian capacity at the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena Air Base, was arrested May 19 for allegedly abandoning the body of Rina Shimabukuro in April. Last Thursday, Shinzato was indicted for raping and murdering the 20-year-old woman.

Although SOFA in its current state did not cause a problem for Japanese authorities investigating this case, as they were able to arrest and indict the suspect, the incident reignited Okinawan demands to revise the bilateral agreement.