CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japanese officials continue to protest an incident last Sunday in which military police refused to hand over two shoplifting suspects to Okinawa police.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to look into the case.

Store clerks collared the teenage Marine dependents in the shopping area near Camps Lester and Foster when they suspected the two stole clothing. Marine MPs arrived on the scene first, but Okinawa police say the MPs should have turned the boys over to local police custody when asked.

Instead, the military police handcuffed the boys and refused to hand them over, police said. The boys, ages 16 and 17, were made available at the Okinawa police station for questioning in the following days.

Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, military police may detain people connected to the U.S. military off base if they are the first to arrive on the scene. However, they are supposed to contact Japanese authorities and hand over the suspects for questioning if Japanese police request it, an Okinawa representative to Japan’s House of Representatives said Wednesday.

The Marine Corps contends that the Okinawa police who arrived at the scene arranged with the MPs to “contact the suspects at a later time,” according to a Marine public affairs statement. However, Okinawa police contend they asked for custody of the teens at the scene and were refused.

The prefectural police department filed a protest and requested the Marines provide a written explanation concerning the MPs’ actions. As of Thursday afternoon, they had not received a response, a police spokesman said.

Marine spokesman Mike Ard said the Corps would have no comment Thursday for Stars and Stripes regarding the matter.

Masahiko Komura, the minister of Foreign Affairs, said the incident was “a matter of grave concern.”

During a meeting Wednesday of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Komura said he would refrain from further comment until he receives a response from the U.S. Embassy.

“It was an infringement of Japanese police power,” said Kantoku Teruya, an Okinawa representative and member of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

He referred to a SOFA memorandum that states military police can detain SOFA-status individuals who are suspected of crimes outside the bases, but they must then be taken to a Japanese police facility for questioning.

“Japan must take a firm stance, for the sovereignty of Japan,” Teruya said.

Chatan Mayor Masaharu Noguni filed a complaint Tuesday with Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, where he was delivering a petition from Okinawa citizens asking the government to insist on requiring the U.S. military to take tougher steps to “reduce incidents and accidents of SOFA personnel on Okinawa.”

“Such actions as what took place Sunday will mislead people here under SOFA, making them believe that they are protected under the SOFA no matter what they do,” he said.

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