National / Politics

Japan, U.S. to sign pact limiting SOFA coverage of 'civilian component' base workers

Kyodo

The Japanese and U.S. governments have agreed to sign a new pact to narrow the scope of U.S. military base workers provided limited legal immunity under the bilateral status of forces agreement, diplomatic sources said Thursday.

The new pact is aimed at assuaging the anti-U.S. base sentiment in Okinawa triggered by the arrest of a civilian U.S. base worker for the murder in April of a local woman. It is expected to be signed by year’s end by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, the sources said.

The pact will supplement the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, under which U.S. base workers classified as the “civilian component” and U.S. military personnel are entitled to U.S. primary jurisdiction if accused of a crime while on duty.

The supplementary pact is expected to exclude from the “civilian component” category civilian base contractors without a high degree of skills or knowledge and place them under Japanese jurisdiction, the sources said.

It would likely exclude the U.S. base contractor, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, who is to be tried for the murder last April of a 20-year-old woman while working for an internet firm at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

The government of Okinawa, where the bulk of U.S. bases are concentrated, has said the definition of “civilian component” is unclear.

Responding to the public outrage in Okinawa sparked by the murder, the Japanese and U.S. governments said in July they had agreed to group U.S. base civilian personnel into four categories: Civilians paid by the U.S. government to work for the U.S. military in Japan; civilians working on U.S. military-operated vessels and aircraft; U.S. government employees staying in Japan for official purposes related to the military; and technical advisers and consultants staying in Japan at the invitation of the military.

As of March, there were about 7,000 U.S. civilian workers at U.S. military bases in Japan, U.S. officials said.

At a working-level meeting in September, the two governments agreed to sign the supplementary pact before U.S. President Barack Obama leaves office next January, after which Kennedy is also expected to be replaced as the U.S. ambassador to Japan, the sources said.

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