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Japan, U.S. to exclude some civilian base workers from bilateral pact protection

Japan and the United States formally agreed on July 5 to narrow the scope of civilian base workers vaguely defined under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in the wake of the alleged rape and murder of a local woman by an American contractor at a U.S. Air Force base in Okinawa Prefecture.

The agreement was reached after Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. John Dolan held talks at the Iikura Guest House in Tokyo.

Under the agreement, the civilian personnel for the U.S. military will be split into four categories whereby civilians such as the suspect under arrest in the recent rape-murder case will only be considered as civilian military workers under the bilateral status of forces agreement if they are highly skilled. Under the latest accord, Japan holds legal jurisdiction over crimes committed by those who fall outside the four categories, even if they are committed while on the job. The two governments, however, did not go so far as to revise the bilateral pact as demanded by the people and government of Okinawa Prefecture.

During the talks, Foreign Minister Kishida said, "We'll continue discussions to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance which is essential to ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and work on reducing the burden on Okinawa." Ambassador Kennedy said that the two countries have achieved an important goal through the latest agreement, adding that the U.S. will strive to conduct activities in such a way as not to lose the friendship and confidence of local residents around U.S. military bases.

The four categories include private-sector technical advisers and consultants under contract with U.S. forces, those employed on the U.S. government budget and working as civilian military personnel and crew members on ships and aircraft operated by U.S. forces.

The criteria for technical advisers and consultants had been ambiguous, but the latest agreement excludes those with low degree of professionalism as it limits only those with a high degree of skill and knowledge who are indispensable for the missions of U.S. forces. The two governments will work out details of specific job types subject to the new rule.

The jurisdiction over private-sector workers and others who are excluded from the official status of workers for the U.S. military will be transferred to the Japanese side. While private-sector workers with Japanese residency have already been excluded from base worker status, but the two governments stipulated in the agreement that they will introduce procedures to make sure that privileged status will not be granted to them. The two governments also agreed to set up a working group tasked with regularly checking the scope of civilian workers for the U.S. military. Under the agreement, U.S. forces in Japan will step up education and training for their personnel and civilian workers to prevent a recurrence of crimes.

The man accused of raping and killing a young Okinawan woman was a civilian worker at an internet-related company on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture. Critics had argued that the scope of civilian workers for the U.S. military was unclear and too wide.

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