Asia

US sailor in Okinawa arrested over alleged rape

Futenma air base Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Most of the US's military bases in Japan are in Okinawa

A US Navy sailor has been arrested on the Japanese island of Okinawa on suspicion of rape.

The 24-year-old man, named as Justin Castellanos by police, denies the allegations, local media reports say.

It follows a decision to halt construction work for the relocation of a US base in Okinawa last week.

The US military's presence in Okinawa - hosting the majority of US troops in Japan - is a divisive issue on the island.

Japan's central government, keen to have a significant US military presence in the country at a time of increased tension with China, is much more supportive of the bases.

Recently there has been considerable controversy over the relocation of the Futenma airbase from its densely populated current site to a more remote area. Local officials and many residents want the base removed entirely.

The land reclamation project necessary for the move has been temporarily halted under a court-mediated settlement, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government still plans to eventually relocate the base to Henoko, south of Nago city.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Okinawans have a mixed relationship with the US military - the bases are important for the island's economy but many are uncomfortable with the presence

The suspect is accused of taking the alleged victim into his room and raping her after finding her asleep in the corridor of his hotel, according to local media reports.

The woman is said to be in her 40s and visiting from Japan's main southern island of Kyushu.

The Japanese government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said the government had "expressed a strong protest" to the US and added that he hoped police can solve the case.

"The US side said it would be a very disappointing incident if the allegation was true and that they're taking this matter seriously," he said.

Expressing fewer reservations, Okinawa's governor, Takeshi Onaga, told Kyodo news agency: "It was a serious crime in violation of women's human rights and can never be tolerated. I feel strong resentment."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The 1995 rape of a 12-year old in 1995 was a low point of US-Okinawa relations

Rapes and other crimes by US troops on the islands have prompted local protests in the past.

In 1995, three American servicemen were convicted of kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old girl on her way home from school in Okinawa, leading to massive protests and a reduction in the US military presence.

The site of brutal fighting between Japanese and US forces during World War Two, Okinawa is now central to the Japan-US security alliance formed in the years after that war.

Okinawa makes up less than one percent of Japan's total land area but hosts about 26,000 US troops - more than half of the 47,000 in the country in total.

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