US, Japan agree to limit contractors′ immunity after Okinawa murder | News | DW | 05.07.2016
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US, Japan agree to limit contractors' immunity after Okinawa murder

The revised criteria will reduce the number of civilian contractors with immunity, said Japan's foreign minister. Crimes committed by US military personnel and contractors in Japan have disturbed bilateral relations.

Washington is to limit the legal criteria for immunity provided to civilian contractors working in Japan in a bid to subdue rising tensions after a former US serviceman murdered a Japanese woman in Okinawa.

The US and Japan agreed on Tuesday to tighten eligibility under the US-Japan State of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which defines the legal status of US military personnel in Japan.

The agreement, signed in 1960, effectively prevents Japanese authorities from prosecuting military personnel and civilian contractors in most cases, including actions committed during official duty.

"This will without doubt reduce the number of civilian contractors covered by the agreement," said Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida.

The heavy US military presence on Okinawa, where over half of the US military personnel in Japan are stationed, has strained relations between the two countries, prompting mass protests calling for the withdrawal of US forces in Japan.

In May, Japanese police arrested Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a former US Marine working at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, for raping and murdering Rina Shimabukuro, a 20-year-old native of the island.

The American contractor had been included under SOFA despite holding a Japanese visa. Washington and Tokyo said US contractors with visas would no longer qualify for immunity under the revised criteria.

US and Japanese officials met on Tuesday to discuss ways to curb civilian contractors' immunity under an official agreement

US and Japanese officials met on Tuesday to discuss ways to curb civilian contractors' immunity under an official agreement

'A sense of justice'

During his historic visit to Japan in May, US President Barack Obama expressed "his sincerest condolences and deepest regrets" over the Okinawa woman's death at the hands of an ex-Marine.

"We want to see a crime like this prosecuted here, in the same way we would feel horrified and want to provide a sense of justice to a victim's family back in the United States," he said.

Some 50,000 US nationals, including 30,000 military personnel and civilian contractors, reside on the island of Okinawa.

A US service member was arrested on Monday for drunk driving, the first such arrest since a curfew on military personnel in Japan had been lifted, reported "The Japan Times." Similar incidents are frequently cited as cause for the withdrawal of US forces from Japan.

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