TOKYO (AFP) — Japanese police are investigating four US Marines on allegations of gang-raping a young woman in Hiroshima, officials said Friday.
The United States stations troops in Japan under a security alliance, but there has often been friction in locations that host the military.
"Needless to say it would be unforgivable if it is true," chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said.
He said a Japanese woman was "raped by several men" early Sunday.
"Following a report by the victim, Hiroshima prefectural police are investigating the case in cooperation with the US military forces in Japan to reveal the truth," Machimura said.
Master Sergeant Terence Peck, a spokesman for US forces in Japan, confirmed that four US Marines were under investigation.
The US embassy said in a statement that it and the US military "are cooperating fully with Japanese authorities on this case."
"The US Forces in Japan and the US government are committed to maintaining the highest standards of discipline for US military personnel in Japan," it said. "We take reports of this nature very seriously."
The alleged incident took place in Hiroshima, a city best known for suffering the world's first atomic bomb, dropped by the United States at the end of World War II.
The Marines under investigation are based at an airbase in Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture, just south of Hiroshima.
Hiroshima police confirmed they had launched an investigation but declined to give any details.
There were mixed reports on the woman's age. The Asahi Shimbun in its evening edition said the woman was at least 20, while the Yomiuri Shimbun and Jiji Press said she was in her late teens.
The TBS television network said the woman was 20 and that the soldiers did not know her previously.
It said the four Marines met her in a public place and invited her into their car. They allegedly drove two kilometres (one mile) to a car park and raped her inside the vehicle, the television report said. Kyodo News said that they met in a bar.
Hiroshima police are considering asking for custody of the four under a diplomatic agreement between the two countries on military personnel accused of wrongdoing.
If police seek custody of the troops, the government "would naturally back them up," Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said.
The United States stations around 40,000 troops in Japan, which has been officially pacifist since its defeat in World War II.
Relations are particularly tense on the southern island of Okinawa, where about half of the US forces are stationed. Thousands took to the streets after three US servicemen in Okinawa raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl in 1995.
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