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Japan seeking changes to US status of forces agreement operation: Kono

Foreign Minister Taro Kono answers a question during a Feb. 7, 2019 House of Councillors' Budget Committee meeting. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Japan is working with the United States government to improve the implementation of the bilateral status of forces agreement (SOFA) to make it easier for domestic emergency workers to access accident scenes involving American military aircraft, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on Feb. 7.

Kono revealed the talks during a session of the House of Councillors' Budget Committee in response to a question from Yoshihiro Kawano, a lawmaker with junior ruling coalition partner Komeito.

Under the current SOFA, which governs treatment of U.S. forces in Japan and was first implemented in 1960, Japanese authorities cannot search or seize U.S. military property or assets without American permission. Based on this provision, American forces have barred Japanese investigators from accessing accident sites involving U.S. military aircraft immediately after the incidents.

For example, in October 2017 a CH-53E Super Stallion transport helicopter based at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa made an emergency landing on private land and burst into flames. The U.S. military prevented police, prefectural and local officials from accessing the accident site.

Regarding access to accident sites, Kono told the budget committee, "Up to now, the Japanese authorities have always been able to conduct necessary investigations. However, at my instruction our staff is now negotiating with U.S. officials to allow more appropriate responses (to accidents)."

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who visited the Foreign Ministry on Feb. 7, told reporters, "What we're calling for is revision of the SOFA, and we would certainly like to see the Japanese government putting effort into altering the pact's operation."

(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)

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