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Okinawa governor bent on US forces shake up
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14:15, February 14, 2008

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Okinawa's governor yesterday called for changes in an agreement governing the status of US troops in Japan as diplomats flew to the island to try to soothe anger over the suspected rape of a schoolgirl by a US Marine.

"To resolve various issues concerning US bases, it is not enough to just improve the implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which relies on US discretion," Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima was quoted by Kyodo news agency as telling the prefectural assembly.

"Fundamental revisions are necessary."

The 38-year-old Marine, Tyrone Hadnott, based at Camp Courtney on the island, was arrested on Monday on suspicion of raping the 14-year-old girl when the two were in a car on Sunday.

He has denied raping the girl but acknowledged forcing her to kiss him, an Okinawa police spokesman said.

Under the agreement governing the status of nearly 50,000 US military personnel in Japan, suspects need not be handed over to Japanese authorities until they are charged.

But after the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen sparked massive protests on Okinawa, Washington agreed to favorably consider handing over suspects in serious cases such as rape and murder even if they have not been charged.

Hadnott was taken into Japanese custody, although he has not been charged.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has denounced the latest incident, which comes as Tokyo tries to persuade Okinawan residents to accept a plan to move the Marines' Futenma air base from the crowded city of Ginowan to the coastal city of Nago.

Both governments, however, are keen to keep the incident from damaging security ties. The US ambassador to Japan, Thomas Schieffer, was to meet the Okinawa governor later yesterday, while Japanese Senior Vice Foreign Minister Itsunori Onodera would meet the top US military commander on the island.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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