NAHA, Japan, Feb. 11 KYODO
Police in Okinawa Prefecture arrested a 38-year-old U.S. Marine on Monday on suspicion of raping a 14-year-old local girl, sparking stern protest from both central and local government officials against the United States and the U.S. military.
The suspect is identified as Tyrone Hadnott, a staff sergeant who belongs to the Camp Courtney base in the southernmost Japanese prefecture. He has denied raping the girl, saying he only forced her down and kissed her, the police said.
According to investigators, Hadnott is suspected of raping the schoolgirl inside a car parked on a street in the town of Chatan around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Marine and the girl allegedly met about two hours earlier in the city of Okinawa, when he talked to her and two of her friends, and she agreed to ride his motorbike because she thought he would give her a ride home.
But the suspect took her to his house and tried to kiss her, according to the police. When the girl started crying, the serviceman told her he would take her to her home in his car, and the two got into his vehicle.
After the girl left her friends, they called her mobile phone several times, the investigators said. They made an emergency call to the police around 10:20 p.m. after the girl replied ''Help me'' and hung up the phone.
Hadnott was arrested early Monday after he was found inside his car in front of his house.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima told reporters, ''I feel strong indignation against the crime and could never forgive it, considering the fact that the victim is a junior high school student...It is a serious crime infringing on human rights of women.''
Nakaima said the incident ''will naturally have detrimental effect on the sentiment of the people of Okinawa (against the U.S. military),'' but that it would not have a negative impact on the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station in the prefecture in line with Japan's 2006 agreement with the United States.
''(The land used for) the Futemma Air Station will be returned to us and we will be able to utilize it again. That's what counts and this process itself is needed,'' he said.
Okinawa Mayor Mitsuko Tomon, after visiting the police to receive a briefing about the case, also voiced her anger against the latest rape incident in the prefecture involving a U.S. military serviceman.
''The incident reminded me of the 1995 rape incident involving a young girl,'' she said, referring to the rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen that fueled anger of the local people and eventually led Tokyo and Washington to announce the return of the Futemma Air Station.
'It's absolutely unforgivable such a young child should have gone through such a terrible experience like this,'' Tomon said.
It follows the arrest last month of two Futemma-based Marines for allegedly hitting a tax driver with a whisky bottle on a street in the city of Okinawa, a prefecture that hosts about 75 percent of facilities in Japan in terms of area occupied.
On an annual basis, the number of U.S. military personnel, including service members, civilian employees and their family members, arrested over criminal cases in Okinawa Prefecture in the past decade peaked in 2003 at 133. The figure was 46 last year.
In Tokyo, the Foreign Ministry said Shinichi Nishimiya, director general of the ministry's North American Affairs Bureau, conveyed his regret over the incident to Joseph Donovan, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, over the phone and asked to strengthen discipline among the U.S. military personnel and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.
Donovan was quoted as saying in response that the U.S. Embassy will be closely watching the development of the factual investigation and will fully cooperate in the investigation by the Japanese authorities.