U.S. Soldiers Sought in Alleged Japan Rape

T O K Y O, June 29, 2001 -- Several men allegedly raped a Japanese woman on Okinawa island today, and a witness said the attack appeared to have been committed by U.S. military personnel, police said.

Police were questioning the victim, who is in her 20s, and searching the central Okinawan town of Chatan, which is located near several American military bases.

The unidentified passersby who said he witnessed the attack before dawn in Chatan called police to report it, saying the foreign men involved appeared to be American servicemen.

Police rushed to the scene and were questioning the woman and searching the area, said Shoichi Shinzato, a spokesman for the Okinawa prefectural (state) police.

No other details were immediately available, and U.S. military officials declined to comment about the case. "We have no information," said Masao Doi, a spokesman at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, the largest U.S. defense facility in Asia.

U.S. Presence Largely Unwelcome

Okinawa is home to most of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan, and crimes committed by soldiers against Japanese there have raised public outcries in the past.

The biggest case involved the gang rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl in 1995 by two U.S. Marines and a sailor, which sparked the biggest anti-U.S. demonstrations in Japan in decades.

Last year, just before an official visit by then-U.S. President Clinton, an American soldier was arrested after entering the home of a Japanese family on Okinawa island in the middle of the night, getting into the bed of a young girl and molesting her. The U.S. military responded by imposing a drinking ban and a late-night curfew on all service members.

That case also sparked protests on the island and demands for the reduction in U.S. military bases there, prompting Clinton to express regret for misconduct by American service members.

Today's alleged rape occurred several hours before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was to leave for the United States for his first summit meeting with U.S. President Bush since being elected in Japan in April.