Inamine calls for rally against SOFA
July 7, 2003
NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine wants to show Tokyo and Washington that Okinawans are united behind his demands for changes in the Status of Forces Agreement between the two countries.
So, with the backing of the Federation of Okinawa Labor Unions, he has scheduled a prefecture-wide rally he hopes will draw the biggest crowd since some 58,000 people gathered in Ginowan to protest the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old local girl by two Marines and a Navy medic in 1995.
The SOFA is a hot topic this month as representatives of the two countries gather in Tokyo and Washington to discuss the issue.
The chief item on the agenda is whether U.S. servicemembers should have rights not available to Japanese citizens charged with felony crimes. American critics of the current arrangement want servicemembers to be allowed to have their lawyers present when being interrogated by police and prosecutors; a U.S. official familiar with the talks has said the United States wants at least an observer present whenever Japanese police are questioning someone with SOFA status.
Inamine, on the other hand, is pushing to give Japanese officials more control of GIs charged with crimes.
But — although now, with the talks in progress, would seem the appropriate time for a rally — Inamine’s demonstration is set for October, when the weather is not so hot and humid, according to rally organizers.
Besides avoiding the summer heat, the governor and labor organizers feel they need time to rally a “broad spectrum” of people to their cause. They want to hold the rally in early October, but the location has not been identified.
The Prefectural Assembly is discussing whether to back the event.
Under SOFA, the United States retains jurisdiction of servicemembers charged with crimes until they are indicted. The United States also has no jurisdiction if the troop is arrested off base. Following the 1995 incident, a special arrangement was worked out within the SOFA guidelines for the early hand-over of persons suspected of “heinous” crimes, such as rape and murder.
Inamine wants Japan to have immediate jurisdiction of the suspects. He also calls for changes in other sections of the SOFA.
For example, he wants local governing bodies to have more say concerning the location and operation of U.S. bases in Japan, and to have access to the bases during emergencies. He has also wants assurances that U.S. and Japanese federal governments will pay for the environmental cleanup of any returned base property.
Other changes demanded by Inamine are banning military aircraft and ships from civilian airports and ports, except in emergencies, and eliminating the lower vehicle tax rate for SOFA personnel.
For example, an American with SOFA status and a standard car pays $65 annual road tax; a Japanese citizen with the same car pays $300.
Inamine has been campaigning throughout Japan for the SOFA changes, focusing on prefectures that host U.S. military bases. To date, he has gained support from the Japan Governors’ Association, Japanese Federation of Bar Associations and special committees on Okinawa in both houses of the Diet.