Two U.S. airmen charged with separate sexual assaults in Japan

TOKYO — Japanese authorities have charged two U.S. Air Force personnel based on the island of Okinawa with sexual assault charges, one allegedly involving a 16-year-old minor, in two separate incidents five months apart.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told a news conference Friday morning that an unidentified man was facing trial for an alleged sexual assault on the island in May.

The suspect is due to appear on an unspecified date at the Naha District Court charged with non-consensual sexual intercourse and causing bodily injuries.

The Air Force’s 18th Wing, which controls the Kadena base on Okinawa, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

In the second case, a U.S. air force service member is accused of kidnapping and engaging in non-consensual sexual intercourse with a girl under 16 years of age, Okinawa’s vice governor, Takekuni Ikeda, said in a statement.

“Such inhuman and vile crimes by U.S. soldiers are a serious and malicious violation of women’s human rights, and are absolutely unforgivable and we are filled with strong anger,” he continued.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki separately told reporters: “I’m at a total loss of words. I’m just filled with anger.”

The Ryuku Shimpo, a newspaper on Okinawa, reported Tuesday that the 25-year-old U.S. airman had been indicted without arrest on March 27 for allegedly abducting and having sexual intercourse without consent with a 16-year-old girl in December.

Hayashi was asked about the case at a regularly scheduled news conference on Tuesday and confirmed that a member of the U.S. military was indicted by the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office in March, following an investigation by police and prosecutors.

“The fact that such an incident had taken place is extremely regrettable,” he said.

“In any case, incidents and accidents involving U.S. military personnel and others cause great concern to local residents and must never happen,” Hayashi continued.

Masataka Okano, Japan’s vice-minister for foreign affairs, has expressed his “regret” to U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel over both incidents, Hayashi said.

He said the U.S. responded to say it took the matter very seriously and was cooperating with the local authorities. 

It was unclear Friday whether both suspects had legal representation.

On Thursday, Ikeda met Brig. Gen. Nicholas Evans, commander of the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, to formally lodge a complaint about the December case.

Ikeda also said that the case had created “strong anxiety among the residents of this prefecture who are forced to live side by side with these bases.”

The presence of a large U.S. Air Force on Okinawa, a legacy of World War II, has long been controversial in Japan. The site is strategically vital to American interests in the region, as the U.S. seeks to counter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

Arata Yamamoto reported from Tokyo; Patrick Smith reported from London.

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