Linda Sieg
February 11, 2008

Top Japanese officials on Tuesday deplored the suspected rape of a 14-year-old girl by a U.S. Marine on the southern island of Okinawa, an episode with echoes of a 1995 incident that jolted the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Tyrone Hadnott, based at Camp Courtney marine base on the island, was arrested on Monday on suspicion of raping the schoolgirl when the two were in a car on Sunday.

Japanese media said the 38-year-old had denied raping the girl but acknowledged forcing her to kiss him.

“It is unforgivable,” Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told a parliamentary panel in his first public comments on the latest incident on Okinawa, host to a huge U.S. military presence.

“It has happened over and over again in the past and I take it as a grave case.”

Japan hosts about 50,000 U.S. troops, most of them in Okinawa, where many residents have long resented bearing what they see as an unfair share of the burden for the bilateral security alliance, a pillar of Japan’s post-war diplomacy.

U.S. military bases in Japan have long caused complaints from local residents about crime, noise and accidents.

In 1995, the rape of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen sparked huge protests in Okinawa, triggering calls for the U.S. military to leave the island and raising questions about the security alliance itself.

“It is truly deplorable that an American serviceman was arrested for these allegations despite the fact that major incidents have occurred in the past and the government has repeatedly urged the U.S. side to … take preventative measures,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters.

U.S. officials have responded quickly to mitigate fallout from the case, which comes as Tokyo tries to persuade Okinawa residents to accept a plan to relocate the Marine’s Futenma Air Station from the densely populated central Okinawa city of Ginowan to the coastal city of Nago.

“Obviously, the U.S. military is cooperating with the Okinawan authorities who are investigating this,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in Washington, adding that the Marine was presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“But in any serious allegation like this we take it very seriously and are cooperating fully with the local authorities,” he said, echoing comments by U.S. military officials in Japan.

Whitman said the incident should not affect U.S.-Japan security ties.

The Futenma base move, agreed by Tokyo and Washington in 2006, is a linchpin of a broader accord to rejig U.S. troops in Japan and is a prerequisite for moving about 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Japanese media say Nago officials have accepted the relocation plan in principle but have opposed some details.

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