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Citizens demand U.S. military hand over hit-and-run suspect

Date Posted: 2009-12-17

More than one thousand Okinawans—including a group of lawmakers—staged a rally in Yomitan over the weekend to demand the U.S. government hand over the military suspect in last month’s fatal hit-and-run accident on a Yomitan street.

The Army staff sergeant suspected in the November 7th death of 66-year-old Masakazu Hokama remains in U.S. Army custody, although the U.S. Army colonel commanding Torii Station in Yomitan has told Okinawan officials he’s willing to hand the 27-year-old soldier over to Japanese authorities. The soldier met once with Japanese police, but has refused to voluntarily meet further with them because of concerns about translators and translations, and the Japanese system that prevents a suspect having his attorney present during questioning.

The 1,500 people who participated in Sunday’s rally want the soldier immediately handed over to Japanese authorities even before any indictment is handed down by prosecutors. The current Japan-U.S. Status of Forces agreement stipulates suspects generally remain in American custody until Japanese authorities formally indict in a case. The demonstrators, who included senior Yomitan Village officials and ruling party politicians, marched to Torii Communications Station in the village, where to staff sergeant has been working, and presented a copy of their resolution to the American military. The demonstrators maintain the soldier should be turned over to Japanese authorities because the current system “allowed the suspect to run away into the base”.

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