Japan’s Abe to press Obama over US crimes on Okinawa

Tokyo, PTI | Updated : 23 May 2016, 02:17 PM

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will seek action by US President Barack Obama over crimes by Americans on the southern island of Okinawa when he visits Japan this week, an official said today.

Okinawan police last week arrested a former US Marine in connection with the suspicious death of a 20-year-old Okinawan woman who had been missing since late April and is believed to have been raped and murdered.

The island was the site of a World War II battle but is now considered a strategic linchpin. It hosts the lion’s share of US bases in Japan and more than half the 47,000 American military personnel in the country under a decades-long security alliance.

But a series of crimes including rapes, assaults and hit-and-run vehicle accidents by US military personnel, dependants and civilians have for years sparked local protests on the crowded island.

Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a US citizen who works at the Kadena Air Base, was arrested for allegedly disposing of the woman’s body, Okinawan police said Thursday.

“Prime Minister Abe said an extremely abject crime like this should never occur and that he feels furious,” top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters, recounting Abe’s meeting Monday with Takeshi Onaga, Okinawa’s governor.

“The prime minister said he will convey Japanese people’s sentiment to President Obama and seek stern actions by Washington.”

Obama is due in Japan for a two-day summit of Group of Seven countries which ends Friday. He and Abe then travel the same day to Hiroshima—where Obama will become the only sitting US president to visit the world’s first atomic-bombed city.

The Hiroshima visit by Obama, who has a record of calling for global denuclearisation, has been well received in Japan.  But the heavy US military presence on Okinawa has long been a thorn in the side of relations.

Suga told reporters that during the meeting with Abe, Onaga expressed anger, saying “the incident is absolutely intolerable”.

Onaga also reportedly expressed his desire to discuss the matter directly with Obama, but Suga ruled out the possibility.

“Issues of national security and diplomacy should be discussed between the central governments,” Suga said.

In 1995 the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen sparked massive protests on Okinawa, prompting Washington to pledge efforts to strengthen troop discipline and reduce the US footprint on the island.

But continued crimes by American personnel remain a potent rallying point for Okinawa, where pacifist sentiment runs high.

Local residents are planning a major anti-US base rally next month similar in scale to the one after the 1995 rape incident, local reports said.

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