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Okinawans' patience running thin over repeated crimes by U.S. military personnel

A man bows his head on the afternoon of June 9, 2016, at the site where the woman was found dead, with flowers laid on the ground in honor of the victim. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- Okinawa residents continue to visit the site where a local woman was found killed, allegedly at the hands of a U.S. military base worker, who has been arrested on charges of the woman's rape and murder after a prior arrest on suspicion of abandoning the corpse.

    An 80-year-old resident of the prefectural village of Yomitan on June 9 visited the wooded area in the village of Onna where the woman's body was found in mid-May. "You can rest in ease; he's been served a new arrest warrant," the man said as he laid a bouquet of flowers on the ground. "How full of sorrow she must've been, abandoned in such a lonely place. Such incidents won't stop as long as the military bases stay."

    In response to the fresh arrest, Gov. Takeshi Onaga released a statement saying, "Such extremely despicable crimes simply cannot be tolerated. My heart aches when I think about the sorrow of the victim and her family. The Okinawan people's rage toward incidents that take place repeatedly due to the existence of massive U.S. military bases is reaching a boiling point. I will continue to press both the Japanese and American governments to review the Status of Forces Agreement, and demand that the bases be scaled down."

    According to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, 31 violent crimes -- such as murder, rape, armed robbery and arson -- were committed by those connected to the U.S. military in the decade between 2006 and 2015. That number has dropped to one-tenth of the 396 incidents that took place in the decade immediately following Okinawa's return to Japan from U.S. military rule in 1972. But repeated promises from the U.S. military that it will enforce strict disciplinary measures and prevent such incidents from recurring have been broken time and time again, reinforcing prefectural residents' anti-base sentiments. Many say that the cases that do become public are just the tip of the iceberg.

    A 21-year-old woman from the prefectural city of Urasoe said that when she was in her third year of junior high school, she was propositioned for sex by a man whom she assumes was an intoxicated U.S. soldier "because he was going to the battlefront in a week." The man's acquaintance stepped in to stop him, but recalling the incident, the woman said, "It was scary. I wish they would ban military personnel from drinking outside of the bases."

    A 46-year-old woman from the village of Tokashiki said that several years ago, when she was teaching at a high school, a female student of hers told her that she had been sexually assaulted by someone connected to the U.S. military. "She didn't file a criminal complaint," the woman said. "I suspect there are many cases that go unreported."

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