Tokyo • Two U.S. Navy sailors were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of raping a woman in Okinawa, local news reports said, an episode likely to further fan anger on an island increasingly outraged over the presence of a large U.S. base.
The news agency Jiji Press said that the two sailors, both 23, were arrested before dawn Tuesday. One has admitted to the rape, the agency said, while the other denied involvement. The Okinawan police refused to comment on the report, but the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John V. Roos, said the U.S. government was “extremely concerned.”
“These allegations, given their seriousness, will continue to command my full personal attention,” Roos said in a statement.
The case comes two weeks after the arrival of 12 new Marine Corps transport aircraft touched off huge protests among islanders. The aircraft, the MV-22 Osprey, has experienced crashes in development, and islanders fear for the packed city where the U.S. base is located. The small tropical island hosts more than half of the roughly 50,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan.
Crimes by U.S. servicemen have been a longstanding complaint of Okinawans, who, like residents of the rest of Japan, enjoy crime rates that are far below those in the United States. The gang rape of an elementary school girl by three Americans in 1995 set off mass protests against the U.S. military presence.
NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, said the woman was attacked on a roadside as she was walking home, resulting in injuries to her neck. It said that she later identified the two Americans when the police took her to an off-base housing area.
NHK quoted Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, as saying that he felt shock and anger, and he called the crime “hard to forgive.” He said he protested directly to the U.S. military in Okinawa, the U.S. Consulate and the prime minister’s office in Tokyo.
One question now is whether the arrests will touch off a new round of protests by Okinawans, whose frustrations rose three years ago when the prime minister at the time, Yukio Hatoyama, promised to move one base, the Futenma air station, off the island, only to renege. The Ospreys, which take off like a helicopter and fly like a plane, were deployed at Futenma, leading activists to stage sit-ins to block base gates and even fly kites in an effort to interfere with flights.
NHK reported that the new rape case was the seventh to result in the arrests of U.S. servicemen since the United States returned Okinawa to Japan in 1972.