The governor of Japan’s southern island chain of Okinawa on Tuesday welcomed the “quick” US response to an alleged rape by servicemen of a local woman, saying Washington was taking the case seriously.
Governor Hirokazu Nakaima was visiting Washington for a previously planned symposium on Okinawa’s heavy US military presence a week after two 23-year-old sailors were arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman on a street.
Nakaima, who had earlier called the purported crime “insane” and told the US that Okinawans were “fed up,” praised the response he heard during his meetings in Washington.
“My impression is that they were very quick in their response,” Nakaima told reporters. “It’s not just the response, but also they’re taking it seriously. That was apparent.”
“The way they responded makes very clear they’re taking it seriously,” he said, while adding that he was awaiting further details on the case.
In meetings with Nakaima, US officials Kurt Campbell and Mark Lippert pledged cooperation and said that “we take all allegations of misconduct by our servicepeople extremely seriously,” US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
The US put all 47,000 members of the armed forces in Japan — both in Okinawa and elsewhere — under an indefinite nighttime curfew in response to the case.
The alleged rape came amid already high tensions in Okinawa, which recently saw demonstrations against the US deployment to the island of the Osprey aircraft, which local activists charge has a poor safety record.
The protests against the Osprey have been among the largest in Okinawa since 1995, when tens of thousands took to the streets urging a smaller US footprint after three soldiers were arrested for the gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl.
The 1995 gang-rape led the US military to ramp up cultural sensitivity training for troops in Okinawa, but the two troops arrested last week, Christopher Browning and Skyler Dozier Walker, were based in Texas and reportedly only on a brief mission to Okinawa.
Senator Jim Webb, a former combat marine who has long taken an interest in Okinawa, told the symposium that the nighttime curfew was “backwards” and that the military should instead encourage more interaction with residents.
“You can’t have both sides thinking that the barbarians are on the other side of the gate,” said Webb, a Democrat from Virginia who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia. “I just think it’s a great opportunity for the American military, when they can live and operate in a place like Okinawa, to get out and fully experience the depth and the history of the culture.”