• Kyodo

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A woman in her 20s was raped early Friday in a parking lot in Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture, by a man believed to be a member of the U.S. military, police said.

The suspect is still at large and details of the attack are not yet known. Police are interviewing the victim, an unidentified resident of the town in central Okinawa, as well as at least one witness. Several U.S. military personnel are also being questioned, investigative sources said.

Police are conducting their search with the cooperation of the U.S. Military Investigation Bureau.

Police received an emergency call early Friday morning from a female friend of the victim, they said.

The man allegedly attacked the woman in the parking lot of the “American Village” shopping district around 2:05 a.m., before raping her and fleeing the scene with several other foreigners by car. The car’s registration plate contained the letter Y, which is used by U.S. military personnel, according to the sources. The shopping district is frequented by U.S. military personnel and local youths.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed concern over the incident, saying while he has yet to confirm facts and details of the incident, “I am concerned because that kind of crime strongly disturbs the sentiments of the local residents.”

The incident comes on the eve of Koizumi’s departure for the United States where he will hold his first summit meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday. The heavy U.S. military presence in Okinawa is expected to come up during the summit meeting at Camp David, Md.

“We don’t know the details, but if it is true it is extremely regrettable,” said Koji Omi, state minister in charge of Okinawa issues, at a news conference in Tokyo. “We must issue a stern protest (to the U.S. military) and take necessary action.”

At a separate news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said, “I received a report about the incident, but I cannot comment further now as it is under investigation.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said, “Japanese and U.S. authorities are investigating an incident . . . possibly involving a U.S. Air Force member,” but no charges have been filed at this point.

The embassy added that U.S. military authorities have been cooperating with local police in the investigation.

Reports of U.S. military personnel sexually assaulting local women and young girls, including the case of three U.S. marines found guilty of raping a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa in 1995, have fueled local opposition to the U.S. military’s presence in the nation’s southernmost prefecture.

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