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NAHA, Okinawa — Japan’s new minister in charge of Okinawa Affairs says he will take a serious look at local demands to revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.

Toshimitsu Motegi, minister in charge of Okinawa and the Northern Territories, is visiting this weekend for the first time since being appointed in September’s cabinet reshuffle. He has meetings scheduled with Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine and other local officials who want changes made to the agreement.

A provision allowing for the immediate handover to Japanese custody of any American servicemember charged with an indictable offense tops the list of proposed changes.

Under the current provision, suspects are not handed over until they are indicted.

There is a gentlemen’s agreement for the early handover of people charged with “heinous” crimes such as murder and rape. Suspects apprehended by Japanese police remain in their custody.

U.S. and Japanese officials held a series of talks on improving the agreement this summer but did not reach a deal.

While U.S. officials were reluctant to allow the preindictment turnover of American servicemembers, their Japanese counterparts bristled at an American request to have U.S. officials present during the police interrogations of the suspects.

Under the Japanese judicial system, suspects are not allowed to have attorneys or other representatives present during questioning.

During a recent press conference in Tokyo, Motegi acknowledged that Okinawa had legitimate issues regarding U.S. military bases.

“First, 75 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan are concentrated on Okinawa, and I am fully aware that the people of Okinawa have shouldered a heavy burden and that it is important to make an utmost effort to ease the burden,” he told reporters.

“Since last year, Okinawa’s military related issues have been a constant agenda at various committees on Okinawa and Northern Territories,” he said. “I believe that it is extremely important to work with a single mind with the people of Okinawa to solve various problems on Okinawa.”

Concerning the SOFA, Motegi said: “I believe that the government might start considering revision of the agreement.”

The basic Japanese stance is to work toward improving implementation of the existing agreement, he said.

“However, if it does not work and there is no … other way, then … revision of SOFA could be one … possibility,” he said. “Whatever it may be, though, I would like to approach these issues to make visible progress to answer the wishes of the people of Okinawa.”

— Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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