Japan PM Condemns Alleged Molesting by US Marine

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Friday angrily condemned in Tokyo the alleged molesting of a young girl by a drunken US Marine on Okinawa, site of this month's summit of President Bill Clinton and other world leaders.

"Basically, this is outrageous," Mori told reporters on Friday evening. "It's no excuse to say that (the marine) was young. They need to be educated about this."

The incident, in which a drunken 19-year-old Marine allegedly entered the 14-year-old Japanese girl's apartment in the early hours of Monday morning and fondled her as she slept, has revived unpleasant memories of the 1995 rape of a school girl by three US servicemen that jolted US-Japan ties.

It also threatens to cast a cloud over Clinton's trip to Okinawa during the July 21-23 Group of Eight (G8) summit, the first visit by a US president since 1972 when the island was returned to Japan.

The US forces on Okinawa said on Friday they would institute a late night curfew from July 14 until July 24 and ban drinking both on and off the bases from July 20-24.

"While we demand and enforce a high level of conduct at all times, it is especially important during the summit -- when the eyes of the world are upon us -- that we put our best foot forward and make our corps and our country proud of who we are and what we do," Marine Corps Lieutenant General Earl Hailston said in a statement.

The step follows a rare apology on Thursday by Hailston, the top US military official in Okinawa, to Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine for the incident.


"These Marines are my sons and daughters. That is why it hurts me deeply when any of my Marines appear to fall short of the standard I have set and demand," Hailston said in a statement. "It hurts me, as it hurts you, my neighbours."

Hailston instructed his commanding generals "to personally speak to their Marines, to outline and reinforce the standards of conduct we demand," a Marine Corps spokesman said.

The incident prompted the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, the Okinawa City Assembly and the assembly of Nago City, where the summit will be held, to pass resolutions protesting against the incident and urging steps to prevent recurrences.

"What these resolutions are saying isn't `get rid of the US bases', but `do something to prevent crimes by the US military here'," said the editor of an Okinawa newspaper.

"Crimes by US military personnel, which had decreased after the 1995 incident, are on the rise again this year," he added.

But anti-base activists said the incident simply proved their point that the bases must go.

"Every time these incidents happen, the Americans apologise and the Japanese government apologises and the prefecture protests. They take steps and promise it won't happen again, but it just keeps happening," said Zenko Nakamura of the Council for Opposing Offshore Base Construction.


Nakamura's group is battling a plan, approved by Japan's central government and the prefecture, to shift a heliport facility from Futenma Air Station in central Okinawa to near Nago City in the north.

In 1996, the United States and Japan signed an agreement to close or reduce by about 20 percent 11 US facilities covering some 12,000 acres -- about nine percent of Okinawa's land mass.

The centrepiece of the deal was shutting Futenma in five to seven years, provided a replacement facility could be found on Okinawa.

About 26,000 of the 48,000 US military personnel in Japan are stationed in Okinawa. Residents of the island have long argued that with less than one percent of Japan's land and one percent of its population, they bear an unfair burden.

In an another case of bad timing this week, Japan's defence minister was forced to withdraw controversial remarks he made about the planned US heliport move.

Defence Agency chief Kazuo Torashima had told reporters on Wednesday it would be impossible to limit the use of the heliport to 15 years -- a time frame the local authority wants but Washington sees as too short -- as it was hard to forecast the region's security situation so far ahead.

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