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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 February 13 - 19  > Government has no information on whereabouts of U.S. servicemen living outside bases
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2008 February 13 - 19 [US FORCES]

Government has no information on whereabouts of U.S. servicemen living outside bases

February 17, 2008
The recent rape of an Okinawan girl by a U.S. Marine shed light on the problem in which the Japanese government has no reliable information on U.S. servicemen living outside bases. In the recent case, the suspect lives outside his base and took the victim to his home.

Foreign Minister Komura Masahiko at the February 15 press conference suggested the need to prevent crimes involving U.S. servicemen living outside bases. However, introduction of such measures has been obstructed by the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Local governments agonizing over preventive measures

Although U.S. forces in Japan restrict night-time outings of U.S. personnel living on base, those who live off base are not subject to any restriction. In Yokosuka City in July 2007, a U.S. sailor assaulted and injured a woman in his apartment.

However, the Japanese government as well as local municipalities do not have reliable information regarding the number of U.S. servicemen living outside bases. Under the SOFA, U.S. military personnel and military civilian employees are exempted from registration with local authorities.

Requests of municipalities hosting U.S. bases to release the number of military personnel living outside the base have been rejected in most cases on the grounds of the SOFA. This situation makes it hard for local governments to take preventive measures.

18 percent live outside bases

According to the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, the number of U.S. military personnel living off base in Japan in 2006 was 8,595, 18 percent of the total number of U.S. servicemen stationed in Japan (about 48,000). Their family members and civilian employees are also living outside the bases.

In June 2006, about 100 U.S. military personnel and civilian workers came to the Air Self-Defense Force Shariki Air Station in Aomori Prefecture due to the deployment of U.S. X-band radar there. The U.S. Misawa Air Base in the prefecture contracted with local private firms to construct housing units for guards employed by a U.S. private military company. The local municipality, however, cannot obtain detailed information on the housing units.

In the recent rape case, the criminal picked up the victim in downtown Okinawa City. The Okinawa City government on February 15 requested the Okinawa Defense Bureau to release information regarding U.S. servicemen living outside bases.

In Chatan Town where the rape took place, municipal workers checked houses in the town and found out that about 1,200 houses or 15 percent of all houses in the area are occupied by U.S. military personnel or military civilian employees.

SOFA must be revised

The government has refused to revise the SOFA by claiming that the latest crime has no bearing on it. However, this agreement is part of the background of the rape case since it allows U.S. servicemen to enter Japan without passports or visas and stay in Japan without registration. It is essential to revise the SOFA.
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