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Friday, Feb. 22, 2008

Hill rues U.S. forces discipline lapse, tough on North


Staff writer

Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill expressed his regret Thursday to Japanese government officials in Tokyo over the alleged rape of a 14-year-old Okinawa girl by a U.S. Marine last week.

Speaking to reporters after meeting with Shinichi Nishimiya, director general of the North American Affairs Bureau of the Foreign Ministry, Hill said, "This is a very difficult situation and I wanted to express my regrets and my concerns over the feeling of people in Okinawa."

The U.S. military has been subjected to severe criticism following a series of alleged offenses by American servicemen in Okinawa.

The arrest of a marine for allegedly raping a teenage girl on the night of Feb. 10 in Okinawa was quickly followed by the arrest of another marine for drunken driving there and yet another incident in which a marine was arrested for trespassing.

The incidents have sparked resentment against U.S. service members in Okinawa, where the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan are located.

Driven by concerns these incidents could affect the planned reorganization of U.S. bases in Japan, the U.S. was quick to respond by setting up the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Task Force last week to reinforce discipline and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.

The military also took the unusual step of imposing an indefinite curfew on all its personnel in Okinawa, beginning Wednesday.

In addition, Japan and the U.S. are jointly deliberating preventive measures that may include installing surveillance cameras in the cities of Okinawa. Both governments plan to announce the new measures by Friday.

"Our top officials, Ambassador (Thomas) Schieffer and Lt. Gen. (Bruce) Wright, (will) do all they can to address the measures to try to prevent such an incident in the future," Hill said.

Hill said he also discussed with Nishimiya the upcoming visit of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura during her visit to Tokyo next Wednesday and Thursday.

Later in the day, Hill, the top U.S. envoy to the six-party talks on North Korea's denuclearization, met with his Japanese counterpart at the ministry and they reaffirmed their cooperation to continue putting pressure on North Korea to submit a "complete and correct" declaration of its nuclear programs.

Under a deal reached last October, Pyongyang was supposed to provide a complete and correct declaration of all of its nuclear programs by the end of last year, but the North missed the deadline and the six-party process has since become bogged down.

Hill's visit to Japan came after his visit to Beijing earlier this week, where he met with North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Kye Gwan to seek a full accounting of Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

After emerging from the meeting, Hill and Akitaka Saiki, chief of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, said they will not make concessions on the North's declaration.

"If (North Korea) submitted the declaration today, it would not be complete and correct," Hill said, adding that the U.S. and the other countries in the six-party talks, including Japan, will continue to seek full and correct declaration.

"The problems have to do with some of their nuclear programs that they had not wanted to include in the declaration," Hill told reporters. "Sometimes they've argued that these programs are finished, but in fact they need to tell us what they were about."

Saiki said that although he had the impression that it will not be easy for the U.S. to restart the stalled talks with North Korea, he hopes China and the other countries work together to overcome the situation.



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The Japan Times

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