Japan vowed to crackdown on crimes involving US troops based in the country after a surprise decision by prosecutors not to pursue rape charges against a US Marine, reports said yesterday.
US Staff Sergeant Tyrone Luther Hadnott, who had been accused of raping a 14-year-old, was freed from custody late on Friday after the girl's family decided not to pursue the case.
The initial case against Hadnott -- who was released 18 days after his arrest on the southern island of Okinawa -- triggered outrage in Japan and reignited controversy surrounding the presence of thousands of US troops.
Hadnott, 38, was immediately taken into custody by the US military, which said it would conduct its own inquiry.
"He is in Marine Corps custody. Marine Corps is still conducting its own investigation," said Second Lieutenant Kurt Stahl, a spokesman for the US Marines Corps in Okinawa.
"I can't confirm details of the investigation but the investigation is still ongoing," he said.
Japanese prosecutors said the girl's family had decided not to pursue the allegations against Hadnott because the girl said she did not want to be part of a high-profile case.
Yaichiro Yamashiki, chief public prosecutor in Naha, Okinawa's prefectural capital, was quoted by local media as saying the girl had told investigators: "I don't want to be involved in [the case] any more. Please leave me alone."
Japan's Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura confirmed the charges against Hadnott would not be pursued.
"Japan will not exercise jurisdiction" in the case, the Maninichi Shimbun quoted Komura as telling reporters.
"But can such a case happen again? It's a different story," he was quoted as saying.
"We will continue making an effort to take preventive measures together with the US military," Komura said.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters late on Friday the two countries should cooperate to prevent similar incidents in the future.
"Japan and the United States should work hard together to prevent such a case from happening again," he said. "I want to continue to do my best on the issue."
Police had said that Hadnott admitted attempting to forcibly kiss the teenager but denied rape and said he did not know that she was underage.
Okinawa City Mayor Mitsuko Tomon was quoted saying of the girl: "I presume she had a hard time as the case had a great impact. But the crime itself has not disappeared. I would like to continue lodging a strong protest to the [US] and the military, urging them to ensure such cases never happen again."
Okinawa residents and protesters said they would press ahead with planned rallies in Okinawa, despite the charges against Hadnott having been dropped.
"It is an undeniable fact that there was violence," said Suzuyo Takazato, head of an Okinawan citizens group that gives support to female victims of crimes involving the US military.
"Shutting our mouths right now means we give in to violence," Takazato said, adding that her group and other citizens' organizations would go ahead with a planned rally in Okinawa on March 23.
The outrage over the rape allegations led the US military to enforce a sweeping curfew on all troops and their families in Okinawa, base for half of the more than 40,000 US troops that are stationed in Japan.
US authorities had moved quickly to try to contain damage from the case, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offering an apology on behalf of Washington during her trip to Tokyo earlier in the week.