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Japanese and U.S. officials soon may resume talks on the handling of U.S. servicemembers accused of committing crimes in Japan.

Such procedures are set forth in the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. Citing unnamed Japanese officials, several major Japanese daily newspapers have reported that discussions about that pact will resume in November. A spokesman for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday confirmed the talks would pick up where they left off in August but would not discuss specifics.

“The movement is in the direction of resuming the talks but the date has yet to be decided,” said Hatsuhisa Takashima, director-general for press and public relations for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The two sides held a series of meetings in Tokyo, Washington and Honolulu that ended Aug. 1 without an agreement. At issue is a demand by U.S. officials that Americans covered by the U.S.-Japan SOFA be granted the right to have an observer present during the pre-indictment process.

They also want to provide their own interpreter for suspects during questioning.

Servicemembers in military custody before indictment routinely are escorted to interrogation sessions at local police stations but observers do not sit in on the questioning.

Under Japanese law, suspects may be held for up to 22 days under what amounts to solitary confinement. They are not allowed to have a lawyer or other representative present during questioning by Japanese police and prosecutors.

For their part, Japanese officials have said they want the SOFA changed to allow for the immediate hand-over of military personnel once arrest warrants have been issued.

Currently, the United States is not legally bound to hand over suspects in military custody to Japanese police until those suspects have been indicted. Japanese police do have immediate jurisdiction over suspects arrested outside military bases.

The only exception: After a controversial Okinawa case several years ago, U.S. officials agreed to consider an early turnover of servicemembers charged with major felonies, such as murder and rape.

The two sides adjourned after 45 days of talks that began June 18, shortly after U.S. officials agreed to the pre-indictment surrender of a Marine charged with rape on Okinawa. The Marine, Lance Cpl. Joe W. Torres, 21, later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3½ years at hard labor in a Japanese prison.

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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