Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Japanese court issues warrant for US murder suspect

AFP , TOKYO

A Japanese court yesterday issued a warrant for the arrest of a 21-year-old US Navy sailor suspected of killing a Japanese woman near a US naval base in Yokosuka, a report said.

The Japanese government plans to ask the US to transfer custody of the suspect, now in confinement on the US base at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, to local police, Kyodo News said.

If the US agrees to the transfer, police were expected to arrest the serviceman as early as yesterday.

Police in Kanagawa prefecture said on Friday that the sailor, a male crew member of the US aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, had admitted to killing 56-year-old Yoshie Sato near the base on Tuesday.

But the sailor has yet to reveal his motive for the alleged crime, Japanese semi-public broadcaster NHK reported.

Sato was found dead and bleeding from her head in the entrance of a building after apparently being attacked on her way to work in what may have been a robbery gone wrong, local media said.

Under a US-Japanese accord, the US military is not required to hand over suspects unless they are charged.

But after the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US Marines in Okinawa in southern Japan in 1995, which sparked public outcry, Washington agreed to look favorably on requests for a transfer of custody in cases of serious crime.

The US Navy said it was offering its full cooperation to Japanese police.

But the case was likely to reignite controversy over the US military presence in Japan, as many communities are reluctant to continue hosting US bases, largely because of crimes committed by soldiers and noise pollution.

There was also public outcry in November after Tokyo said it had agreed to host a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier for the first time in Yokosuka, the electoral district of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

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