Defense Minister blasts Friday assault incident

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Allegations of a U.S. airman breaking into a Yomitan apartment less than a kilometer from Kadena Air Base in the Furugen district, and then beating up a 13-year-old boy early Friday is raising a furor stretching from Okinawa to Tokyo.

Authorities say the 24-year-old airman had been drinking in a bar on the first floor of the three-story building, and then climbed to the third floor about 1 a.m. and broke in, punched the boy, and then broke a television set before attempting to escape through a window.  That effort was not successful; the airman fell, and is now hospitalized at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa with broken bones and internal injuries.

The airman reportedly began behaving violently at the bar about 1 a.m. Friday, after being told it’s the time for him to go home, leading the bar owner to call police.  Local police say they received a call from the bar owner complaining the man was drunk and making trouble.  When they arrived at the bar, they found the suspect lying on the ground after having jumped from the third-floor window.

Details of the assault are being widely reported by Japanese news media, including national broadcaster NHK, and the story has quickly been picked up worldwide by the Associated Press and  American broadcaster ABC.  The junior high school student told police, “I was sleeping in the living room when I was awoken by someone slapping me on the head. I found a foreigner standing there.”

The incident comes only two weeks after U.S. Forces Japan placed all U.S. military personnel on a 11 p.m.  ~ 5 a.m. curfew following the rape of an Okinawa woman by two U.S. Navy personnel.  The two sailors were on a short temporary duty stint on Okinawa when then grabbed and attacked the young woman in Okinawa City.  Both have confessed to the deed.

The airman is currently in U.S. custody. Okinawa police say they intend to question him on suspicion of illegal entry of a private residence, causing injury and damaging property once he recovers from his injuries.  Under the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States, the serviceman will remain in U.S. custody until Japanese prosecutors indict him.

Today’s incident has raised the ire of both the Defense Minister and the Foreign Minister.  Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said “This is unforgivable” when learning of the airman’s action.  The Japanese Foreign Ministry, working with unusual speed, has already lodged a formal complaint with the U.S. Ambassador, John Roos.  Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba called the alleged incident as “outrageous, and a shaken Roos emerged from his meeting with Senior Vice Foreign Minister Shuji Kira, saying that he was beside himself with anger over the incident. Roos offered his apologies to the youth–a junior high school student–and his family.

The 18th Wing Vice Commander at Kadena Air Base, Air Force Colonel Brian McDaniel, has told the media “we are fully cooperating with Okinawan authorities on this investigation to ensure justice is served.

Since the October 16th rape, opposition to American troops has flared, with mass protests even recalling the 1995 rape of a junior high school girl by three American GI’s.  That incident 17 years ago led to plans to close Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, but that’s been repeatedly stalled over difficulties getting everyone to agree exactly where to move the airfield to.  Currently, plans call for moving Futenma to the Henoko district of Nago City in Northern Okinawa, on Camp Schwab.

Aside from the October rape, protesters have been active in demanding the MV-22 Ospreys deployed to Futenma be removed.  A protest earlier this week attracted about 1,300 people arguing the aircraft is not safe to operate here.

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