U.S. Military Probes 2nd Sex Assault in Okinawa; American Soldier in Custody; Rice Plans Visit

Article excerpt

Byline: Takehiko Kambayashi, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

TOKYO - For the second time in as many weeks, U.S. military officials said they were investigating a case of sexual assault by an American soldier on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, complicating an already delicate diplomatic visit planned here by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The two incidents, one involving a 14-year-old girl, have added fuel to long-simmering protests against U.S. bases on the island, where Okinawans have long complained about crime associated with the American military installations.

With Miss Rice due in Japan on Wednesday after attending the South Korean presidential inauguration of Lee Myung-bak, both Washington and Tokyo scrambled to contain the diplomatic fallout from the latest clash over Okinawa.

U.S. military officials announced Wednesday a virtual lockdown of the 45,000 U.S. personnel, civilian workers and relatives living on or near two major U.S. bases on Okinawa. Christopher R. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, expressed "great regret over the situation that has developed in Okinawa, my great concern for the feelings of the people of Okinawa, and the fact that this is a very difficult time."

Japanese government officials, who are often criticized at home for ignoring the concerns of the Okinawan community, quickly denounced the rape reports and urged the U.S. military to strengthen discipline in the ranks.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda called the incidents "unforgivable," and said he planned to raise them personally with Miss Rice.

"We must urge the U.S. to reflect seriously on what has happened," said Nobutaka Machimura, chief Cabinet secretary under Mr. Fukuda.

In the latest incident, Kyodo News agency reported yesterday that U.S. officials had taken a soldier into custody earlier this month over charges that he sexually assaulted a Philippine woman working in Okinawa. Japanese officials on the island said they would seek an arrest warrant.

Last week, Japan reported the arrest of a U.S. Marine on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old Japanese girl. Staff Sgt. …