Japan yesterday demanded that the US military prevent crimes by its personnel after a sailor was detained over the death of a local woman in a case likely to reignite controversy over the presence of US forces.
The US Navy said it was holding in confinement a sailor for his alleged involvement in the apparent murder of the 56-year-old woman in Yokosuka, where a large US naval base is located.
"The Japan-US alliance is built upon cooperation from communities [hosting bases]," Japanese Minister of State for Defense Fukushiro Nukaga said.
"There has to be a complete system in which crimes are prevented," he told reporters.
The victim, Yoshie Sato, was found dead and bleeding from her head in the entrance of a building early on Tuesday after apparently being attacked on her way to work in what may have been a robbery gone wrong, local media said.
The US Navy said it was offering its full cooperation to Japanese police.
"I offer my most sincere apology to the family and friends of Ms. Sato, and I wish them strength and comfort during this very difficult time," Rear Admiral James Kelly, the top US Navy officer in Japan, said in a statement.
"I reiterate my deep regret and sadness over this tragic incident, and my promise of complete support and cooperation with all Japanese authorities remains firmly in place," he said.
According to Japanese media reports, the serviceman from the US aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk has admitted to killing the woman.
The case comes at a delicate time with Washington and Tokyo negotiating a realignment of US troops in Japan.
The US stations 40,500 troops in Japan -- which is banned from having its own official military under the postwar pacifist Constitution -- as part of a security alliance.
Washington stresses it is sensitive to local concerns, but many communities are reluctant to continue hosting US bases, largely because of crimes committed by soldiers and noise pollution.
In 1995, public anger erupted after three US Marines gang-raped a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa in southern Japan.
There was also public outcry in November after Tokyo said that it had agreed to host a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier for the first time in Yokosuka.