US Navy reviews rules on Japan bases

By Eric Talmadge

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 24 2012 7:54 a.m. MDT

According to police, the two arrived in Okinawa two days earlier on a brief stopover and were staying in an off-base hotel. They were reportedly drinking before the alleged rape took place, between 3 and 4 a.m. They are now in Japanese custody awaiting trial.

The U.S. military has an outsized presence in Okinawa, which was a major battlefield during World War II and a U.S.-administered territory until 1972. The prefecture (state) of 1.4 million hosts about 28,000 U.S. troops — mostly Marines and Air Force personnel, with smaller contingents of sailors and soldiers. U.S. bases occupy nearly 20 percent of Okinawa's main island.

Anger on Okinawa was already rising because of the military's decision to deploy the Marines' MV-22 Osprey hybrid aircraft to a base there last month, despite local opposition over safety concerns after two recent crashes elsewhere. Tens of thousands of protesters held the largest rally in years to oppose the deployment.

But crime has long been the most sensitive trigger to anti-U.S. military emotions on Okinawa.

The rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor in 1995 sparked a huge outcry there. It led to a broad review of military regulations and an agreement to reduce the military footprint on Okinawa, including a plan to move about 9,000 Marines off Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam or other Pacific locations. The plan has not yet been implemented.

Over the past decade, base-related crime on Okinawa has generally been decreasing.

According to statistics released by the Okinawan government, the number of felonious crimes — murders, rapes, arsons or violent robbery — committed by service members or their dependents on Okinawa dropped from 13 in 2008 to four last year, and the overall number of crimes has dropped by about 50 percent since 2003 and remained fairly stable.

Takuya Kobashigawa, of the Okinawa prefecture's base relations department, said U.S. troops or their dependents account for about 1 percent of all crime on Okinawa. He said there had been two sexual assaults on Okinawa by U.S. personnel over the past three years and no rapes since 2008, when there were four cases.

The downtick in overall crime, however, has done little to change Okinawan perceptions.

"The preventative measures currently taken by the U.S. military and its efforts to educate its personnel can only be called dysfunctional, and we are outraged," Okinawa's prefectural assembly said in a resolution adopted Monday. "The repeat of this kind of incident tries the patience of the Okinawan people beyond their limits, and has generated calls for all U.S. bases to be removed from our prefecture."

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