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US, Japan To Study Cases of Crime

March 8, 2001

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan and the United States on Thursday agreed to study whether to broaden the cases in which U.S. military personnel suspected of crimes would be handed over to Japanese police, a Foreign Ministry official said.

The United States in 1995 agreed to hand over military personnel suspected of rape or murder on request by Japanese authorities, but it is not obligated to transfer those suspected of other crimes until they are indicted by prosecutors.

In talks Thursday between U.S. army and Japanese Foreign Ministry officials in Tokyo, the two governments agreed to set up a panel of legal experts to outline other crimes for which the U.S. military would be required to transfer suspects, said Foreign Ministry official Hideki Yamaji.

The Japanese government is considering whether to ask the United States to include arson, kidnapping and violent robbery among those crimes, said Yamaji. The new panel could meet as early as this month, he said.

It was too early to speculate when the two governments would reach an agreement, he said. U.S. officials are pressing the Japanese to set up safeguards to protect the legal rights of suspects under investigation, said Yamaji.

Tension has arisen over the U.S. military’s handling of a Marine suspected in a recent arson attack.

Authorities declined to turn the suspect over to Japanese police until he had been indicted. The incident prompted several local governments on Okinawa to pass resolutions calling for a change in the agreement to facilitate handovers of suspects.

Okinawa, located 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo, is home to half of the 47,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. It has been a key base in the Pacific since it was occupied at the end of World War II.

Okinawans’ anger toward the U.S. military exploded in 1995, when three U.S. military servicemen raped a 12-year-old schoolgirl. The incident led to widespread demands for a reduction in the bases.

Japanese resentment has also been fueled by an accident last month in which a U.S. submarine rammed a Japanese fishing vessel off of Hawaii.

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