Okinawa governor demands US military presence pact amendments for the sake of 'shocked' locals
The governor of the southern prefecture, Takeshi Onaga, demanded that the central government makes “drastic” and “fundamental” changes in the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) during his meeting with Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Saturday, according to Japanese media.
"People in Okinawa have been shocked and are enduring significant anxiety," Kyodo News quoted Onaga as saying. The meeting followed a decision by the Naha District Court in the prefecture's main city to sentence a former US marine to life imprisonment for raping and killing a Japanese woman. The case provoked public outrage and triggered one of the massive anti-US protests on the island, with at least 50,000 people gathering to decry heavy US military presence.
Last month, a 61-year-old woman was killed in a car accident after a member of the US Marine Corps crashed their truck into a light vehicle she was driving. His blood alcohol level was revealed to be three times over the legal limit. The fatal crash prompted an alcohol ban for all members of the US military stationed in Okinawa. The governor, however, protested: “We cannot contain our indignation,” saying that the local government had repeatedly urged the US forces to take preventive measures.
The accord with Washington is “unfair,” being overly protective of servicemen and civil workers of the US military bases, the governor stressed during his meeting with Kono. Onaga’s calls have only been met with promises that Tokyo will try to alleviate the burden borne by the Okinawa residents. “We want to improve what we can improve,” Asahi Shimbun quoted Taro Kono's response.
Earlier in the day, however, the foreign minister requested the top commander of US military forces in Okinawa, Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, to take preventive steps given the latest incidents.
“We understand our obligation to the community and we can do that better as well. We will continue to look at our behavior, our actions and how we represent our country,” Nicholson said.
Okinawa is the home to several major US military bases, and 70 percent of land exclusively used by the US military in Japan is located in this prefecture.
About 50,000 US military personnel are stationed there, according to Reuters.