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Monday, December 26, 2016, 17:25

Japan, US set to sign pact to limit US base worker immunity

By Associated Press
Japan, US set to sign pact to limit US base worker immunity
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) listens to US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy (L) during a joint announcement of the return of US military land on the island of Okinawa, at Abe's official residence in Tokyo on Dec 21, 2016. (Toshifumi Kitamura / POOL / AFP)

TOKYO — Japan and the US have agreed in principle on guidelines for limiting immunity from Japanese prosecution for civilian workers at American military bases, following a murder case this year on a southern Japanese island involving a Marine-turned-contractor, officials said Monday.

Since July, the governments have been negotiating several points concerning US civilian contractors at American bases who are subject to protection under the countries' Status of Forces Agreement.

A clear definition of civilian contractors and adequate control of their data would help prevent criminal cases in the future

Fumio Kishida, Japanese Foreign Minister

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told a regular news conference that the two sides have agreed on how to define what constitutes a "civilian contractor" at an American base and hope to sign the agreement "during President Barack Obama's term." He did not give further details.

The May arrest of the base contractor, accused of raping and murdering a 20-year-old woman, has renewed outrage on Okinawa island, where resentment has been simmering over its heavy US troop presence.

That prompted Tokyo and Washington to try to establish a clearer definition of "civilian base workers." In July, the two sides said base contractors, now described vaguely as having a "civilian component," will be classified in more specific terms, to exclude from preferential treatment those without skills and those who are residents of Japan, like the suspect in the April murder case.

Kishida said a clear definition of civilian contractors and adequate control of their data would help prevent criminal cases in the future.

Japan, US set to sign pact to limit US base worker immunity
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida attends Russian Foreign Minister during their meeting in Moscow on Dec 3, 2016. (Yuri Kadobnov / AFP)

About 50,000 US troops are stationed in Japan under a bilateral security agreement, more than half of them based on Okinawa. In addition, 7,000 Americans employed as civilian contractors were at US military bases in Japan as of March.

The Status of Forces Agreement, originally signed in 1960, gives US military personnel and civilians employed at American bases in Japan immunity from Japanese criminal procedures in accidents or crimes while on duty or on base.

It also allows the US military to hold suspects on base until formal indictment by Japan. Okinawan authorities say the rule denies them proper access to investigate crimes under Japanese law.

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