U.S. Ambassador, Top Commander Apologize to Rape Victim
TOKYO (AP) _ Trying to assuage anger against the U.S. military, the U.S. ambassador and the commander of American forces in Japan apologized Tuesday for the rape of a schoolgirl allegedly committed by three U.S. servicemen.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the United States will hand over the three suspects, who are being held in a Marine brig, if they are charged by Japanese authorities.
The attack on the 12-year-old Okinawan girl has brought renewed calls to scrap an agreement that grants special legal status to U.S. military personnel in Japan.
Residents’ outrage reflects not only the seriousness of the crime but also the tensions underlying the relationship between Okinawans and the U.S. military.
In the apology, U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale and Lt. Gen. Richard B. Myers expressed their ``sincere apologies for the suffering this crime has brought to the child, her family and the people of Okinawa Prefecture.″
The two met with Gov. Masahide Ota of Okinawa, an outspoken opponent of the U.S. military presence on Okinawa.
The apology, released by the U.S. Embassy, followed similar remarks last week by the senior U.S. commander on Okinawa, Maj. Gen. Wayne Rollings, who also ordered tighter discipline and drinking restrictions.
Myers went further in comments to reporters, saying ``this terrible tragedy was an outrageous act toward humanity and makes all of us wearing the U.S. military uniform deeply ashamed.″
About 29,000 U.S. troops, most of them Marines, are stationed on Okinawa, a small island on Japan’s southern fringe. U.S. bases take up roughly one-fifth of the island, and 75 percent of all American bases in Japan are concentrated there.
The suspects _ Marine Pfc. Rodrico Harp, 21, of Griffin, Ga.; Pfc. Kendrick M. Ledet, 20, of Waycross, Ga.; and Navy Seaman Marcus D. Gill, 22, of Jasper, Texas _ are in a brig at Camp Hansen, a Marine base.
The three allegedly abducted the girl near her home in northern Okinawa on Sept. 4, then raped her at a nearby beach.
Although the U.S. military isn’t required to hand over the suspects to Japanese authorities until formal charges are filed, Okinawan media and politicians have slammed the continued U.S. custody as arrogant and insensitive.
Ota met with Japan’s foreign minister and chief Cabinet secretary Tuesday to discuss the forces agreement. Foreign Minister Yohei Kono rejected Ota’s suggestion that the agreement be revised, citing the importance of U.S.-Japan security ties.
But Chief Cabinet Secretary Koken Nosaka said that while Japan highly values its security ties with Washington, ``we believe it is necessary for the United States to seriously reflect″ about the attack.
In a news conference Monday, Defense Agency chief Seishiro Eto indicated a willingness to consider revising the agreement, but stopped short of endorsing it.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the U.S. military would hand over the three servicemen if Japanese authorities charge them.
``I think we have noted how shocked we are and distressed we are to learn that American citizens, and indeed American officials, in this case military personnel, may have been involved in this attack,″ Burns said.
Okinawa was also one of the bloodiest battlefields of World War II. An estimated 25 percent of the native population was killed before the island was secured by the Americans, and it was kept under American occupation 20 years longer than the rest of Japan.