Japan pushes ahead with US base worker rape, murder case

People offer a silent prayer in front of the US Kadena Air Base in Cyatan, Okinawa prefecture, to protest against the US military presence in Okinawa, on May 21, 2016.
People offer a silent prayer in front of the US Kadena Air Base in Cyatan, Okinawa prefecture, to protest against the US military presence in Okinawa, on May 21, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Thursday (June 9) moved closer to charging a US military base employee with the rape and murder of a local woman on the southern island of Okinawa.

Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 32, a former US Marine employed at the US Air Force's sprawling Kadena Air Base, was first arrested last month for allegedly disposing of the body of the victim, identified by local media as Rina Shimabukuro.

On Thursday, as is common practice in Japanese law, he was again arrested, this time for the separate crime of the alleged rape and murder of the 20-year-old woman, an Okinawa police spokesman told AFP.

 
 

Japan's Jiji Press reported that Shinzato was formally charged on Thursday for abandoning the body. Prosecutors, however, told AFP they could not comment.

The case has intensified longstanding local opposition to the American military presence on the strategic island, which reluctantly hosts about 75 percent of US bases in Japan by land area.

Crimes by US personnel have long sparked protests on crowded Okinawa, and have been a frequent irritant in relations between close security allies Japan and the United States.

The woman's remains were found after investigators conducted a search in a weed-covered area based on Shinzato's deposition, while police found DNA matching Shimabukuro's in his car, news reports said.

His arrest last month sparked fresh anger among Okinawans as well as a harsh public rebuke by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to US President Barack Obama when he visited Japan for a Group of Seven summit.

Obama expressed regret over the incident while vowing measures to prevent crime by Americans. The military on Okinawa, meanwhile, imposed restrictions including a curfew.

But last weekend a 21-year-old US sailor on the island was arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated and injuring two people, one seriously, prompting the US Navy to impose an alcohol ban on its personnel throughout Japan.

More than half the 47,000 American troops in Japan under a decades-long security alliance are stationed on Okinawa, the site of a major World War II battle that was followed by a 27-year US occupation of the island.

A series of crimes including rapes, assaults and hit-and-run accidents by military personnel, dependants and civilians have long sparked protests.

In 1995 the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen prompted Washington to pledge efforts to strengthen troop discipline to prevent such crimes and reduce the US footprint on the island.

Okinawans are planning a major rally later this month to protest the bases, as well as the behaviour of US personnel.