Okinawa-Based Retired Marine's Arrest Triggers Anger in Japan

Protesters stage a rally outside Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, southwestern Japan, on May 20, the day after an American working on a U.S. military base in Okinawa was arrested in connection with a woman's death.Kyodo via AP

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By Arata Yamamoto

TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister expressed “great anger” Friday following the arrest of a retired Marine in connection with a woman's death — the latest controversy involving U.S. military bases on Okinawa.

“I simply can’t find any words to offer to her family,” Shinzo Abe said, telling reporters he would raise the case of Rina Shimabukuro with the United States. It comes a week before he is due to host President Barack Obama at the G-7 summit.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters of his "deep anger" over the latest Okinawa incident.STR / AFP - Getty Images

“I feel great anger,” Abe added. “I can only imagine her anguish."

Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 32, a civilian employee at the Kadena Air Base and a retired Marine, was arrested and charged with disposing of Shimabukuro's body.

The 20-year-old was found dead in a forest in the north of the island late Thursday. Shimabukuro vanished last month after texting her boyfriend to say that she was going out for an evening walk.

More than 100 local residents protested outside the air base early Friday.

“Enough is enough. As long as there are U.S. bases here, it will happen again — and we cannot let that happen,” one elderly demonstrator told public broadcaster NHK.

Crimes carried by U.S. personnel in Okinawa, which is home to 70 percent of the American military presence in Japan, have long triggered anger on the island.

In March, a 24-year-old Navy sailor based at Camp Schwab was arrested on suspicion of raping a Japanese tourist in Naha City.

In 2012, two Navy reservists were given prison sentences by a Japanese court for stalking and raping a Japanese woman they met at a bar.

The issue came to the boil in 1995 with the kidnap and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen on the island. Outrage erupted over the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement which exempted them from the local legal system. Although the attack happened away from a U.S. base, the suspects were taken into custody by the U.S. military instead of local law enforcement. They were eventually handed over to Japan and were tried and convicted.

That case ignited huge daily demonstrations.

Protesters in Okinawa demonstrated against the construction of a U.S. Marine Corps air base on May 15. It was the 44th anniversary of Okinawa's reversion to Japanese control.HITOSHI MAESHIRO / EPA

In the wake of that case, the U.S. and Japan began plans to relocate the most controversial air base, Futenma, away from the densely-populated Ginowan City. In 2006, a new site was chosen in the less populated section northern section of the island but after further protests the issue was never settled.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishi summoned U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy late Thursday to lodge an official protest in the Shimabukuro case.

In response, Kennedy pledged to “re-double our efforts to make sure this will never happen again.”

She told Kishi: “Nothing that I can do or say can make up for your loss or bring her back, but I want to express to you my determination and that of my military colleagues to cooperate fully with the Okinawan police and Japanese government.”