- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan — Mika Tamanaha and her friend came because it's the biggest event of the year on Okinawa, a chance to enter the gates of this sprawling U.S. base, munch on hot dogs, explore the inside of a surveillance plane.
But while tens of thousands of Okinawans swarmed to this normally off-limits corner of their island for an annual goodwill festival yesterday, detectives off the base were investigating a reported rape that has created outrage.
For a second day yesterday, police questioned a U.S. Air Force sergeant over allegations that he raped an Okinawan woman in a parking lot outside a nightclub early Friday.
"It's really frightening," said Miss Tamanaha, an 18-year-old college student. "It made me think twice about coming here. But we try not to think about it too much."
No charges have been filed against the sergeant, said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. The serviceman, who has denied the charge, was allowed to return to base last night, said Okinawa Prefectural Police spokesman Akira Namihira.
The story was front-page news in both newspapers on Okinawa, where crimes over the years by American servicemen — including the gang-rape of a 13-year-old schoolgirl by American servicemen in 1995 — have fanned opposition to the large U.S. military presence.
Because of its strategic location, Okinawa, one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of World War II, remains a key U.S. outpost. Nearly two-thirds of the 47,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan are based on the island, including the largest contingent of Marines outside the United States. Kadena Air Base is America's largest in the region.
Feelings toward the troops are complex.
Okinawans often say they are resigned to their presence and welcome the economic boost the American presence provides in Japan's poorest province.
As yesterday's Amerifest demonstrated, many welcome the opportunity to mix with the Americans. No incidents were reported at the Kadena festival, and officials said they expected 250,000 visitors before it ends today.
"It's a festival, it's fun," said Akemi Ikehara. "My 3-year-old son likes to see the planes."
But tensions between the troops and 1.2 million Okinawans are endemic, and the latest accusations come at a delicate time. President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met yesterday at Camp David.
"We are not going to stand for this violence," said Akira Nakane, 69, who served in the Okinawa provincial assembly from 1972 to 1995. "As long as American bases occupy 10 percent of our land, there will be problems."
There were conflicting accounts about what happened.
The rape reportedly took place shortly after 2 a.m. Friday at a parking lot in the town of Chatan — in an area of restaurants and bars known as "American Village," not far from several U.S. military bases, Lt. Cmdr. Davis said.
A technical sergeant assigned to the 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena Air Base was suspected in the assault, said lt. Cmdr. Davis, who said the sergeant had been drinking with the woman that night. Lt. Cmdr. Davis and Okinawan police declined to identify the sergeant.
The woman, however, told investigators she was drinking with a friend and was approached by a group of foreign men, including the suspect, when she went out to the parking lot, a police spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
The woman, who is in her 20s, said the men surrounded her and one of them raped her, the police spokesman said.
He said a passer-by told police that several men — apparently U.S. servicemen — participated in the attack and fled in a vehicle.
In Washington, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz disputed that account, saying several servicemen "came to the rescue of the individual involved and may have helped to calm this incident down, which speaks well of those people."
Okinawa police have questioned as many as seven other U.S. servicemen, most as possible witnesses, the Pentagon spokesman said. They planned to summon an unspecified number of servicemen for questioning today, said Mr. Namihira, the prefectural police spokesman.

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