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Search still on for six U.S. military deserters

Date Posted: 2009-08-06

At least a dozen American GI’s have deserted from their military organizations while stationed in Japan over the past 15 months, and half of them are still evading capture by authorities.

U.S. Forces Japan, the Japan Foreign Ministry and local authorities in Kanagawa, Nagasaki and Okinawa Prefectures have teamed up to share information about military personnel who’ve gone missing in their areas. An agreement between the U.S. and Japan in May 2008 set the stage for Japanese authorities detaining U.S. deserters when asked by the U.S.

Two men are reported having deserted in Okinawa last October, but authorities say one was captured in February of this year. Seven sailors have deserted from Yokusuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, with five already having been apprehended. Three other service personnel stationed at Nagasaki Prefecture’s Sasebo Naval Base have been in deserter status since last year.

The U.S. military provides deserter information to the Japanese, asking various prefectural police forces to locate, pick up and detain the individuals. Once captured, the deserters are then returned to American military control. Government agencies and ministries are working together with local authorities to identify military deserters, locate them and prevent them from leaving Japan. A government official says it is not Japanese policy to reveal information on deserters, or the searches for them, to the general public.

At least 12 U.S. military personnel have deserted in Kanagawa, Nagasaki and Okinawa prefectures since May 2008 and six remain unaccounted for, it was discovered Thursday from information gathered from U.S. forces, the Foreign Ministry and local authorities. Japan and the United States agreed in May 2008 that Japanese authorities would detain U.S. deserters at the request of the U.S. side.

While the latest finding shows the difficulty of locating deserters, the information has not been disclosed to local residents. From September 2008 to June this year, Japanese authorities received requests for seven deserters from Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture to be detained, of whom five have been caught and the remaining two are still missing.

At Sasebo base in Nagasaki, three personnel have been unaccounted for since 2008, while in Okinawa, two are believed to have deserted last October, of whom one was detained in February.

Under the bilateral agreement, the U.S. side provides information on deserters to the Japanese side and requests prefectural police forces to detain them. Once they are detained by police, deserters are turned over to the U.S. side.

Information on deserters is shared among concerned ministries and agencies as well as local authorities so they can work to confirm their whereabouts and prevent them from leaving the country, but the information is not disclosed to local residents.

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