Wednesday, February 20, 2008

US Military Imposes Curbs in Japan

US Military Imposes Curbs in Japan

By Joseph Coleman

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Tokyo - The U.S. military in Japan restricted 45,000 troops, civilian employees and their families to bases, workplaces or off-base homes Wednesday to quell a furor over rape allegations against a Marine.

The restrictions went beyond a midnight curfew already in place for enlisted Marines on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, where the rape is alleged to have occurred and where most of the 50,000 U.S. troops in the country are based.

The order, which focused on Okinawa but also affected Marines throughout Japan, was issued as a recent string of crimes blamed on American servicemen has stoked long-simmering sentiment against the U.S. military presence.

The new rules were in place indefinitely.

"This period of reflection will allow commanders and all service members an opportunity to further review procedures and orders that govern the discipline and conduct of all U.S. service members serving in Okinawa," the U.S. military said in a statement.

The restrictions affect all arms of the U.S. military in Okinawa, civilian employees such as American teachers at base schools, and their families. Marines nationwide also fell under the order, which affected a total of 44,963 people, including 22,772 military personnel.

The move was part of a broad campaign in the past week by the U.S. to soothe rising anger over the alleged crimes - most prominently the rape case - that threatened to erupt into widespread protests against the American presence.

The Japanese government welcomed the measure, but said more must be done.

"We need further concrete measures to prevent a recurrence. The restrictions are worthwhile as the first step of earnest discussions," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, who has sharply criticized U.S. forces in recent days.

The latest furor began with the arrest last week of 38-year-old Staff Sgt. Tyrone Luther Hadnott in the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa. Hadnott admitted to investigators that he forced the girl down and kissed her, but said he did not rape her, police say.

The Hadnott case has prompted comparisons with the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by three U.S. servicemen. That attack triggered massive protests against the American military, and the three were convicted and sentenced to prison.

Tensions have been compounded in recent days by allegations of additional less serious crimes, such as drunk driving, trespassing and counterfeiting. Japanese leaders have deplored the behavior and accused the U.S. military of lax discipline.

The new restriction bans military personnel from leaving their bases except for official business, work, worship or travel to and from housing, essentially banning troops from off-base bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Okinawa is considered a linchpin in U.S. military posture in Asia, and Washington is eager to quell rising sentiment against American troops. Military officials have apologized profusely, and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer traveled to Okinawa last week to smooth relations.

Okinawa was the site of one of the most ferocious battles of World War II, and the island chain was not returned to Japan until 1972, some 20 years after the end of the U.S. occupation of the rest of the country. Today it hosts most of the American troops in Japan.

Okinawans have complained about crime, crowding and noise brought by the troops for many years. Protests in the 1990s forced the closing of a Marine air station, and now a plan to build a new airstrip on the island has stirred persistent opposition.

Over the past week, Okinawan lawmakers have passed resolutions demanding tighter discipline among American troops, and groups have held several protests. In the latest demonstration, some 300 people held a meeting on Tuesday in the town where the rape is alleged to have happened.

Military officials said they hoped the restrictions would encourage better behavior by troops.

"The intent is not to just inconvenience people," said Col. Eric Schnaible, spokesman for U.S. forces. "Hopefully ... people will realize, you know, ..Got it, and we will behave as we should.'"

On Tuesday, the U.S. military, which launched a review of anti-sexual assault guidelines following Hadnott's arrest, said it had designated Friday as a "day of reflection" to urge troops to adhere to ideals of professionalism.

"USFJ has generated recommendations and reached a mutual agreement that all USFJ components will take additional actions to further reinforce and encourage the already high standards of professionalism among US Forces serving in Japan," the military said in a separate statement on Tuesday.

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