U.S. Ambassador, Top Commander Apologize to Rape Victim
TOKYO (AP) _ Trying to cool widespread public anger against the U.S. military here, the American ambassador to Tokyo and the top U.S. commander in Japan apologized today for the rape of a schoolgirl, allegedly committed by three U.S. servicemen.
The attack against a 12-year-old Okinawan girl earlier this month has received heavy national news coverage _ and has set off renewed calls to scrap an agreement that grants special legal status to U.S. military personnel in Japan.
In the apology, U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale and Lt. Gen. Richard B. Meyers 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, follows similar remarks last week by the senior U.S. commander on Okinawa, Maj. Gen. Wayne Rollings, who has also ordered tighter discipline and drinking restrictions.
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 was to meet with Japan’s foreign minister and chief Cabinet secretary later today to discuss the status of forces agreement.
In a news conference Monday, Defense Agency chief Seishiro Eto indicated a willingness to consider revising the agreement but stopped short of endorsing it.
Okinawa’s outrage over the rape reflects not only the seriousness of the crime but also the endemic tensions underlying the relationship between Okinawans and the U.S. military.
Some 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.
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.