• Kyodo

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Two U.S. Marines in Okinawa Prefecture were warned by police Thursday for carrying rifles in a civilian area, police said Friday.

Based at the U.S. military’s Makiminato Service Area in Urasoe in the south of the prefecture, the two reportedly told police they were carrying the unloaded rifles because they were on duty.

They explained their actions by saying they were lost, adding they had only been assigned to the area for six months, according to police.

Police said the two had been in a truck that was part of a convoy bound for the Makiminato base after a drill held in the northern part of the prefecture. They reportedly strayed from the group in Naha and became lost.

The pair were walking along a highway in search of a public phone to contact their commanders when they were reported to police at about 9 p.m. by local residents who were frightened to see U.S. soldiers carrying rifles in a civilian area, police said.

Police arriving on the scene led the marines back to their base about 2 km away before issuing a warning to the marines and their superiors not to carry guns in civilian areas, they said.

Public distrust of the U.S. military has been heightened in Okinawa by a series of incidents involving U.S. Marines, as well as recent degrading remarks made by their commander, who called the Okinawa governor and local officials “nuts” and “wimps.”

Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston made the remarks in an internal e-mail, which caused political furor after they were made public Tuesday. Hailston visited Gov. Keiichi Inamine and Prefectural Assembly Chairman Kokichi Iramina on Thursday afternoon and apologized for the statement.

The e-mail was sent to 13 U.S. officers in Okinawa on Jan. 23 in connection with the prefectural assembly’s response to an indecent act allegedly committed by a U.S. Marine in the town of Kin in northern Okinawa on Jan. 9.

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