U.S. soldiers queried on rape in Okinawa


OKINAWA CITY, Japan, AP

A Japanese woman was raped in a parking lot in Okinawa on Friday, and police questioned several members of the U.S. Air Force after a witness said that American servicemen were apparently involved in the attack, officials said.

An unidentified passer-by told police that several men who appeared to be U.S. servicemen attacked the woman at about 210 a.m. in the parking lot in Chatan town, then fled in a vehicle, said Shoichi Shinzato, a spokesman for the Okinawa prefectural police.

The victim, who is in her 20s, told authorities that she was surrounded by several foreign men and that one of them raped her, Shinzato said. She did not say what country the men were from, or whether anyone in the group had tried to stop the attack, which occurred in an area of restaurants and bars known as “American Village” not far from several U.S. military bases, Shinzato said.

Afterward, several U.S. Air Force personnel in uniform were questioned by police in nearby Okinawa City, where the investigation was being conducted.

“Right now, we are cooperating fully with the Okinawa City police department, and that’s all that we can say,” said Masao Doi, a spokesman at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, the largest U.S. defense facility in Asia.

In Tokyo, the U.S. Embassy also said American authorities are cooperating with the Japanese investigation and that the attack might have involved a U.S. Air Force member. However, the statement pointed out that no charges have been filed yet.

The assault came several hours before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was to leave Japan for the United States for his first summit with U.S. President George W. Bush. One issue they are likely to discuss is the long-standing public opposition in Okinawa to the fact that most of the 50,000 U.S. servicemen based in Japan are located on the southern island of Okinawa.

When Koizumi was asked about the attack at a news conference before his departure for Washington, he said: “We can’t do anything until we’ve seen the facts.”

Earlier Friday, Koji Omi, the Cabinet member in charge of Okinawa, said: “If the reported case is true, it’s greatly regrettable and we should lodge a strong protest, and necessary steps must be taken.”

In Okinawa, 1,600 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, crimes committed by U.S. soldiers against Japanese have raised public outcries in the past.

The biggest case involved the gang rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in 1995 by two U.S. Marines and a sailor, which sparked the biggest anti U.S. demonstrations in Japan in decades.