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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 19:06 GMT
Okinawa marine sought on arson charges
US troops
The US has a large military presence in Japan
Japanese police have issued an arrest warrant for a US marine suspected of involvement in a series of arson attacks in Okinawa.


The police said on Tuesday that the marine, 23-year-old Kurt Billie, allegedly set fire to two restaurants in the town of Chatan on 15 January.

According to the police, they obtained an arrest warrant for Mr Billie after questioning him about 10 times with the cooperation of the marines, during which time he admitted his involvement in the attacks.

But the US military authorities refuse to hand him over because, under bilateral arrangements, only suspects in serious crimes such as murder and rape are turned over to the Japanese side before their indictments.

Apologies

The mayor of Chatan, Choichi Hentona, said the incident "shows that the US military is giving up its good neighbour policy on its own initiative".


There have been a series of crimes and accidents involving US military personnel and I take the situation very seriously

Yohei Kono, Japanese Foreign Minister
The Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono expressed his regret over the "very serious situation".

"The Japanese Government will do its utmost to seek a quick handover of the suspect to the Japanese authorities", he said.

The head of the US military on the island, General Earl Hailston, has apologised for the incident.

It is his second apology in a week, following the release of an internal email in which he referred to local politicians as "nuts and a bunch of wimps".

Series of incidents


The US military should hand over the suspect to the Japanese police as soon as possible for investigation

Choichi Hentona, mayor of Chatan
US troops in Japan have been involved in a series of damaging incidents - and bilateral ties suffered a further setback last Friday when a Japanese trawler was sunk by an American nuclear submarine off Hawaii.

Okinawa was under US administration until 1972. There is strong antipathy against the continuing military presence.

The 1995 rape of a local schoolgirl by three US servicemen sparked mass protests demanding the removal of US forces from the island.

The US military has been at pains to point out that the incidence of such crimes is lower than among the Japanese population, but it has done little to silence the outraged protests.

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See also:

11 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sub collision heightens tensions
06 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
E-mail provokes Okinawa fury
19 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa urges US troops cutback
04 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa marine charged
20 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa: Island of resentment
10 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Discipline warning for Okinawa military
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