Victims to be informed of how U.S. military personnel handled

Tokyo and Washington have agreed to inform victims of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel in Japan of court proceedings, including punishment handed to perpetrators, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday.

The first-ever revision in the operational arrangements regarding the notification system under the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement comes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Kishida said at a press conference that the measure "should lead to reducing the burden on people in Okinawa Prefecture." Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan.

"I hope (the measure) will spur understanding for our country's security policy and the U.S. military realignment process," he said.

The Japanese government has currently been informed by the U.S. side only of finalized court rulings. Under the new rules, Japan can also be informed about court decisions even before they are finalized, whether or not the personnel were given disciplinary actions or not, and if punished, what kind of disciplinary actions were given, Kishida said.

This piece of information can, in principle, be revealed to the victims and their families, if they wish, even without U.S. approval.

The revision comes in response to growing frustration in Okinawa Prefecture, which shows dissatisfaction about the current notification system.

The latest measure is also aimed at easing local opposition to a long-stalled plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station from a densely populated area to a less-populated area within the island prefecture, officials said.

Locals are calling for the Futenma base to be moved outside Okinawa.

Visiting Okinawa later in the day, Kishida explained to Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima the new rules and vowed to implement steps to ease the prefecture's base-hosting burden as agreed with U.S. officials.

During their talks, Nakaima welcomed such measures as a "step forward" but reiterated his call to transfer Futenma out of Okinawa.

Kishida was joined by Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in meeting with Nakaima, who has the authority to approve or reject the central government's application to reclaim land for the relocation.

It is the first time for Kishida and Onodera to visit Okinawa together and hold talks with the governor. The meeting came after Kishida and Onodera met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last Thursday in Tokyo for a "two-plus-two" security meeting.

The Okinawan prefectural government submitted a written request to the Foreign Ministry in February, asking for the disclosure of details such as the kind of punishment given to military personnel.

SOFA, which has not been revised since taking effect in 1960, gives the United States primary authority to try both military and nonmilitary U.S. personnel if they are suspected of committing crimes while on duty.