Okinawa rape charges add to tensions over U.S. military presence

Okinawa police arrested two American sailors on allegations of rape Tuesday, the latest politically sensitive case to add to longstanding tensions over the U.S. military presence on the Japanese island.

The two sailors allegedly followed a woman as she walked home from work in the early morning hours on Tuesday, chased her down and assaulted her, also injuring her neck, Okinawa police told Japanese media. The sailors have been identified as Seaman Christopher Browning and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker of the Fort Worth Naval Air Base in Texas, according to the Associated Press.

Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto called it “an extremely egregious and vile incident” Wednesday, saying the U.S. military must have failed in training its personnel, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

Okinawa officials said the U.S. military must make concrete changes to stop repeated attacks. The alleged crime echoes a similar allegation against U.S. personnel in August. Such crimes have been politically explosive in the past: The 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by American servicemen ignited mass protests in Japan and eventually prompted pledges to shut down an airfield on the island.

Okinawa hosts most of the American military bases in Japan, spurring concerns among islanders about accidents, noise, disruptions and crime. Protesters on the island want the massive military base in the heart of the city of Ginowan to be relocated elsewhere in Japan or overseas.

The U.S. and Japan agreed this spring to shift roughly 9,000 Marines off the island, but have been unable to resolve the touchier question of where to move the Futenma base. More recently, fears that new aircraft sent to the Okinawa base could put islanders at risk of dangerous crashes touched off new rounds of protests.

The new incident threatens to ramp up tensions further. U.S. Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos issued a statement Wednesday saying the U.S. was extremely concerned about the allegations and would cooperate fully in the investigation.

“These allegations, given their seriousness, will continue to command my full personal attention,” Roos said.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

 

 
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