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Japan asks for joint helicopter crash probe

Date Posted: 2004-08-27

The Japanese government is asking that a joint panel be convened with the U.S. to investigate the helicopter crash. Japanese officials in Tokyo say their involvement is essential because of the furor caused by the accident.

The move came after the U.S. military on Tuesday rejected a request by Japanese police to be involved in the investigation, citing its right under the Status of Forces agreement. Prefectural police had asked to be a part of the investigation into the crash, which occurred on Japanese soil.

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha, meanwhile, handed a letter to the Foreign Ministry, demanding further details on the crash, while pressing for the return to Japan of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station site. Japan and the U.S. in 1996 agreed on the base's return, pending construction of a replacement site in Okinawa.

Officials say Japanís decision to call for the panel -- a subcommittee of the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee -- is in light of the seriousness of the crash. The committee oversees implementation of the Japan-U.S. security treaty.

The subcommittee, if formed, would consist of U.S. military representatives in Japan and officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Agency. It would be tasked with compiling a report on the cause of the crash and report to the Joint Committee.

The subcommittee last convened in 1997 to look into a U.S. military plane crash in Yokohama.

In Okinawa, Prefectural Police chief Kiyotaka Takahashi told reporters that Japanese investigations into U.S.-military accidents are restricted by the SOFA. "We're not supposed to conduct (investigations) beyond the agreement," he said. Later in the day, Okinawa police began inspecting the crash scene, but only after the U.S. had removed the helicopter wreckage.

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