• Kyodo

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Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, chief of U.S. forces in Okinawa Prefecture, visited Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine on Thursday and offered an apology for an incident in which a U.S. Marine is alleged to have molested a 14-year-old girl living in the city of Okinawa.

Hailston, accompanied by U.S. Consul General of Okinawa Robert Luke, told Inamine that he would like to apologize to all the people of Okinawa and the family involved for the anxiety the incident has caused.

This is the first time a chief of U.S. forces in Okinawa has made such a visit to apologize directly to the Okinawa governor.

When a 12-year-old schoolgirl was raped by three U.S. soldiers in September 1995, only a U.S. consul general apologized directly to then Gov. Masahide Ota. One of the three soldiers was convicted of conspiring in the rape though he did not actually rape her.

The 1995 incident unleashed a wave of anger in Okinawa Prefecture, where U.S. military bases are concentrated, that led to calls for the U.S. military presence there to be reduced and prompted Gov. Ota to reject steps to ensure continued use by the U.S. military of privately owned land.

The case led to the creation in November 1995 of the Special Action Committee on Facilities and Areas in Okinawa (SACO), under which the United States agreed in December 1996 to close the Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in five to seven years on condition that its heliport functions be relocated to another site.

The U.S. military chief’s unconventional move this time is aimed at minimizing discontent among local people with the U.S. military as soon as possible before the Group of Eight nations summit in Okinawa Prefecture on July 21-23, which will be attended by U.S. President Bill Clinton, analysts said.

During the meeting, Inamine protested over the incident.

“We urge the U.S. military to take every measure to prevent a recurrence by applying strict enforcement of discipline among its soldiers,” Inamine told Hailston.

In response, Hailston said he deeply regrets the incident and his officers will make the utmost efforts to prevent any recurrence.

Earlier in the day, Okinawa Deputy Gov. Hideo Ishikawa visited Hailston to protest about the incident, and also submitted a letter demanding the U.S. military take measures to prevent a recurrence.

Hailston reportedly told Ishikawa, who took the unconventional step of visiting the U.S. military chief during the prefectural assembly meeting, that the U.S. military will reinforce standards of conduct for its Marines, saying the incident should never had happened.

On Monday, police arrested a 19-year-old U.S. Marine based at the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, on suspicion of breaking into a home in the city of Okinawa and molesting a junior high school girl while she was sleeping.

The Marine, who was drunk at the time, has reportedly told police he meant to visit a friend’s house and entered the residence by mistake. He has denied molesting the girl.

Ishikawa also requested the early opening of a three-way coordinating committee by the prefectural and central governments and the U.S. military in Okinawa to discuss military issues in Okinawa.

The incident prompted the prefectural assembly to adopt a resolution demanding that the U.S. and Japanese governments take preventive measures, as well as protest movements by local municipalities, political parties and civic groups.

The Okinawa Prefectural Police have submitted a request to Hailston to impose on U.S. soldiers a curfew and a ban on drinking alcohol outside bases at late hours and to reinforce discipline.