• Kyodo

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Japanese and U.S. officials may resume talks on the handling of U.S. military personnel suspected of committing serious crimes in Japan as early as this fall, a Defense Department source indicated Friday.

Japanese officials said the two countries are discussing restarting the talks in November. The previous round of talks ended without an agreement, despite a series of four meetings since July 2.

The Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries does not require the United States to hand over U.S. military personnel alleged to have committed crimes until Japanese prosecutors charge them.

But the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl by three U.S. servicemen in 1995 prompted the U.S. to give “sympathetic consideration” to personnel suspected of committing serious crimes being handed over. Since then, three U.S. servicemen have been handed over prior to their indictment.

The U.S., however, wants Japan to guarantee that suspects’ rights will be protected as some human rights groups have raised concerns about the Japanese criminal justice system.

Japan has indicated that under certain conditions it would allow U.S. law-enforcement officers to be present during the questioning of suspects or let the U.S. select an interpreter.

Details of these conditions are expected to be discussed in the next round of talks.

The Pentagon source noted that nothing definite has been agreed upon as yet and there is no clear indication of what the next round of talks might produce.