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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012

EDITORIAL

Stoking Okinawan anger

With the alleged rape of an Okinawa City woman by two U.S. servicemen on Oct. 16 fresh in people's minds, another U.S. serviceman allegedly broke into an Okinawan residence and struck a boy on Nov. 2.

The Okinawa prefectural police on Nov. 5 interrogated the man, a 24-year-old U.S. Air Force member stationed at Kadena Air Base, on a voluntary basis under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The police decided that the case was not so atrocious as to demand that the U.S. side hand him over to them.

But this was not a minor incident in terms of repercussions. It occurred less than three weeks after the alleged rape and while a curfew for U.S. military members was in force. Three days after the Oct. 16 alleged rape, the U.S. Armed Forces in Japan imposed an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, covering all U.S. servicepeople in Japan.

The latest case shows that the severe curfew did not work as anticipated. As one would expect, this incident has further stoked the anger Okinawans felt over the alleged rape. Their sentiment should not be taken lightly by the U.S. and Japanese governments.

According to the police, the airman became violent in a bar in the village of Yomitan on Okinawa Island around 1 a.m. on Nov. 2 and allegedly broke into the residence of a 41-year-old woman on the third floor of the same building and struck her 13-year-old son in the cheek. The airman also kicked over a TV and then jumped out a window, fracturing a rib. He was treated at a U.S. Navy hospital and is being held by Kadena Air Base authorities.

If a U.S. military member is suspected of having committed a crime off duty outside a base and then enters a U.S. military facility, U.S. authorities, under SOFA, in principle are to keep him or her in jail until Japanese public prosecutors indict him or her. If the Japanese police arrest the U.S. military member on the spot, the same criminal procedure should be applied to him or her as to a Japanese suspect.

On Nov. 2, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima told a meeting of prefectural governors that the latest incident could "create a crack" in the Japan-U.S. security setup. After talking with U.S. Ambassador John V. Roos by phone the same day, he said that he warned him that the alleged rape and the alleged trespassing and battery could make it difficult for Okinawans to accept the importance of the U.S. Armed Forces' presence in Okinawa under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

A resolution adopted on Nov. 5 by the Yomitan village assembly pointed out that it would not be far-fetched to say that U.S. Armed Forces members in Okinawa are acting as if they were members of an occupation force with extraterritorial rights.

Both the U.S. and Japanese governments should pay heed to the governor's statement and Yomitan village's resolution. Tokyo should sincerely respond to the Okinawan people's call for a revision of SOFA. Washington should strive harder to make its military personnel aware that criminal behavior by just one of them could undermine Japan-U.S. relations.



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