Drunken driving, trespassing, theft and most seriously rape are the crimes some US Marines in Japan have been accused of recently. The allegations have led the Japanese government to lodge a complaint with the US ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer.
US military base in Okinawa
Over half of the roughly 40,000 US troops in Japan are based on Okinawa. Their presence is controversial. Local residents often complain of noise, pollution and crime related to the US bases.
Crime has increased in recent weeks. At the weekend, two Marines were arrested; one for drunken driving, the other for trespassing, after being found asleep on a local resident’s couch.
Just one week before, another Marine was arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl in a car. Officials say the 38-year-old has denied rape but admits forcing the girl to kiss him.
The case has brought back memories of the gang-rape of a 12-year-old girl, which triggered mass rallies against the US troops in 1995.
Promises of greater discipline
Last week, US officials flew to Japan to offer their personal apologies and promise stricter discipline in the military. The commander of the US forces in Japan also announced the military had set up a task force to review and develop existing programmes to prevent sexual harassment and assault.
The most recent arrests have provoked further outrage across Japan. A top government spokesman said the US troops should not be drinking in the middle of the night and committing crimes just as people call for stricter discipline.
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Japan, Thomas Schieffer, has said all the incidents are deeply regrettable and has promised once again that Washington will make every effort to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.
When US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flies into Japan next week, she is widely expected to be grilled on this matter.
Angry local residents
But local residents think there will always be such incidents so long as there are the US military bases on Okinawa. Lawmakers on the island have called for a reduction in the US military presence there. However, this does not seem to be on the cards.
The US military is currently planning to move one air-base from the crowded city of Ginowan to the coastal city of Nago. US and Japanese officials have expressed their doubts that the incidents will have any impact on the plans.
US troops have been stationed on Okinawa since the end of the Second World War. They occupy about 10 percent of the southern prefecture’s land. At several times in post-war history, US forces have launched major operations from Japan, most recently during the first Gulf War.