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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 11:32 GMT
Okinawa welcomes rape verdict
Japanese queuing for admission tickets to the trial
The trial has generated huge interest in Japan
Residents of the Japanese island of Okinawa have welcomed the guilty verdict given to a US airman convicted of raping a local woman, but some have complained that his 32-month jail sentence is too lenient.

Suzuya Takazapo, a women's activist and local councillor in Naha city where the trial was held, told the BBC she was "almost satisfied" with the outcome.

"We feel [the sentence is] very light, that today the judge almost accepted the prosecutor's side, and denied completely the defendant's side," she said.

I am worried this could happen to anyone. I am glad he got the guilty verdict

Mariko Kamizato

The Naha District Court ruled that Staff Sergeant Timothy Woodland, 25, raped the 24-year-old Japanese woman in a car park at a shopping complex near the Kadena air base.

Woodland had admitted having sex with the woman, but said it had been consensual.

Toyoki Ohshiro, a 63-year-old shop owner in Naha, told the French news agency AFP he had heard the news on the radio.

"I thought the verdict was too light. But I must say the verdict itself is major progress for us because before, the US military had not even allowed us to arrest criminal suspects because it secretly sent them back to America," he said.

The trial has stirred strong emotions on Okinawa, which is home to more than half the 50,000 US troops based in Japan.

'Second class citizens'

There have been calls for troop numbers to be cut back and for changes in the way the US and Japanese authorities co-ordinate dealing with suspected wrong-doers.

At present, the US only hands over servicemen once they have been charged by Japanese prosecutors, though the US says it gives "sympathetic consideration" to any request for a quicker handover if the crime is serious.

Okinawa houses US military bases, but that does not mean we are America's colony

Takashi Nakasone
Those rules were partly the result of another incident in Okinawa in 1995, when three US servicemen raped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl, leading to huge protests.

There was particular anger with the Woodland case because the US initially refused to hand him over, only backing down after several days.

One resident said the US's behaviour during the case made locals feel like second-class citizens.

"I've heard that local people always stand in the weaker position when they were involved in a crime to do with US military. I thus believe that the ruling finding him [Woodland] guilty is absolutely just," she said.

Another resident used more evocative language.

"Okinawa houses US military bases, but that does not mean we are America's colony," said Takashi Nakasone, 60, a pharmacist.

Ms Takazapo said the latest case could only increase local opposition to the US military's presence in Okinawa.

"Although we had a very good judgement, during the six-month trial, many US newspapers and magazines were blaming the victim in a way, so if a woman tries to accuse or protest, it would be a hard process," she said.

Another resident, 20-year-old cosmetics shop assistant Mariko Kamizato, said she had a friend who had also been raped by a US serviceman.

"She did not come forward to police because she was too drunk at the time of the crime," Kamizato said.

"I am worried this could happen to anyone. I am glad he got the guilty verdict," she said.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"There is resentment on the American side too"
See also:

22 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Prosecution question Okinawa 'rape victim'
25 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Okinawa 'rape victim' attacks media
19 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
US rape suspect charged in Japan
07 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan detains US rape suspect
02 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tense atmosphere in Okinawa
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