US forces on Okinawa to hold a month of mourning

Reuters, TOKYO

Sun, May 29, 2016 - Page 4

The US military yesterday announced a 30-day period of mourning at its bases on Okinawa, where the killing of a woman has reignited resentment of the heavy US military presence in the region.

A 32-year-old US civilian working at a US military base in Okinawa was arrested this month for dumping the body of a 20-year-old Japanese woman, a procedural step in murder cases.

The attack stoked anger in Japan, prompting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to protest about the killing during talks with US President Barack Obama ahead of the G7 summit in central Japan.

Many associate the bases with crime. The rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by US military personnel in 1995 sparked huge anti-base demonstrations.

A senior US military official told reporters that all festivals, celebrations and music concerts at US military bases would be postponed during the 30-day period which began on Friday.

Media said alcohol consumption outside bases would be prohibited among military personnel and their families along with civilians employed by the military, while they would also be required to observe a midnight curfew.

The US military was not immediately available to comment on the details of the restrictions.

“There are no words in the English language that can adequately convey our level of shock, pain and grief at the loss of life of this innocent victim,” said Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, commander of the US Marine forces in Japan.

“We are all shocked, we are all stunned, we are all angry,” he said. “My request to the Okinawa people is simple: please do not allow this terrible act of violence to drive a wedge between our two communities.”

“We should not be out having large celebrations and parties while the Okinawan people are in mourning. If we really believe we are part of the Okinawan community, then we too must be in mourning. And we do,’’ he said.

Okinawa, the site of a brutal World War II battle, hosts 50,000 US nationals, including 30,000 military personnel and civilians employed at US bases.

Both governments want to keep the incident from fanning further opposition to an agreement to relocate the US Marines’ Futenma air base to a less populous part of Okinawa, a plan first agreed upon after the rape in 1995, but opposed by the island’s governor and many residents who want the base off the island entirely.

Additional reporting by AP