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The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"The airman has denied the charge, saying that he had consensual sex with the woman"
 real 28k

Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 05:16 GMT 06:16 UK
US rape suspect charged in Japan
The car handing Timothy Woodland to the Japanese authorities
The closest Japanese got to seeing the accused was the car he was handed over in
Japanese prosecutors have charged a US airman with raping a woman on the southern island of Okinawa, in a case that has strained relations between the two countries.

Timothy Woodland, a 24-year-old staff sergeant stationed at Kadena Air Base on the island, allegedly raped an Okinawan woman in her 20s in a car park near the airbase in the early hours of 29 June.

Mr Woodland has maintained his innocence throughout, claiming the sex was consensual. The case has fuelled local resentment of the huge US military presence.

Mr Woodland's indictment came after the Naha District Court said prosecutors could not detain him beyond Thursday, withdrawing a previous decision allowing detention until Monday of next week.

Prosecutors originally had until 23 July to charge Mr Woodland, but Naha District Court on Wednesday moved that deadline up to Thursday, Choko Zukeran, a spokesman for the prosecutors office said.

The deadline was reportedly changed after the court determined prosecutors had gathered enough evidence to charge him.

Pressuring witnesses

The move to indict comes on the heels of a reported push by Mr Woodland's lawyer, Tsuyoshi Arakaki, to get him released, arguing that the suspect's passport was held by the US military and he was unlikely to flee.

Judge Misao Shimizu, however, said the court was concerned that, if released, Mr Woodland would meet US military personnel who had witnessed the alleged crime and ask them not to testify against him.

Car park
The alleged rape took place in a car park
US officials refused to hand Mr Woodland over to local police for four days after an arrest warrant was issued on 2 July, saying they wanted guarantees that his rights would be protected.

Many Japanese took the delay as an insult to the nation's justice system.

Mr Woodland was finally handed over on 6 July after US and Japanese negotiators worked out a handover agreement.

The Americans have not released details, but Japanese news reports said prosecutors agreed to limit questioning of Mr Woodland to 10 hours a day and to move quickly on the case.

Foot dragging

When Mr Woodland was handed over he became only the second US serviceman to be given up to Japanese investigators before formal charges had been filed.

Japanese perceptions that Washington had dragged its feet before handing Mr Woodland over revived calls to revise a pact on the status of US military forces in Japan.

Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Washington need not hand over suspects until they are charged, but has agreed to consider making exceptions for "heinous" crimes.

Residents of Okinawa, which has about 26,000 US service people stationed there, have been outraged by repeated crimes involving US soldiers, including the gang rape of a 12-year-old girl in 1995.

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See also:

06 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa rape suspect under arrest
05 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan pressures US over rape suspect
04 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Temperatures rise in Okinawa rape case
02 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa dogs Japan-US relations
06 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa: Island of resentment
30 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan rape report worries US
19 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa urges US troops cutback
06 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa: No easy solution
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