US-Japan Talks to Include Case of Marine Vet Accused of Rape, Murder

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, Thursday, May 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo, Thursday, May 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

The rape and murder of a Japanese woman, allegedly by a Marine veteran on Okinawa, will be on the agenda for talks with President Barack Obama in Tokyo later this week, Japanese officials said Monday.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "will strongly demand that the U.S. side take effective and convincing measures to prevent incidents and accidents involving U.S. servicemen and others," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

"The Prime Minister said he felt indignation and offered sympathy to the bereaved family" of 20-year-old victim Rina Shimabukuro, Suga said. "Taking into account public sentiment, he will call for strict measures, I believe," against U.S. service members and civilian employees in Japan, said Suga, the chief government spokesman.

Suga did not specify what measures Abe wanted Obama to impose on the more than 50,000 American service members in Japan, about half of them on Okinawa.

Opposition to the U.S. presence on Okinawa was already strong and the killing of the young woman has renewed protests focused on the long-delayed plan to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma further north on the island to Henoko.

Last Saturday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter phoned his Japanese counterpart, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, to express his concerns that the murder could impact the Japan-U.S. alliance and also "conveyed his sadness and his regret" to the victim's family and the people of Japan, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Carter pledged that "the Department of Defense is determined to cooperate fully with the government of Japan and local authorities regarding the investigation so that justice can be carried out" and added that the Pentagon "will do all it can to prevent incidents like this in the future."

Rina Shimabukuro, an office worker from the Okinawan city of Uruma, went missing on April 28 after leaving a message for her boyfriend saying that she was going for a walk. Her body was found dumped in a wooded area not far from the Kadena Air Force Base.

Last Thursday, 32-year-old Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a former Marine who had been stationed on Okinawa and was working as a civilian employe at Kadena, was arrested on suspicion of raping the woman before strangling and stabbing her to death.

Shinzato allegedly admitted to the killing at first but later claimed he was not guilty, according to Japanese newspapers citing investigative sources.

Cabinet Minister Suga spoke following meetings between Abe and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who demanded a meeting with Obama when he arrives in Japan Thursday on a two-day visit to attend the G7 (Group of Seven) economic summit. Suga said that arranging the meeting would be "difficult."

The Obama visit will also focus on closer military cooperation with Japan to counter China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. Obama will also make the first visit by a sitting president to Hiroshima, site of the U.S. atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945.

Following his meetings with Abe, Onaga said, "I would very much like to directly speak to President Obama so as to ensure the safety of prefectural residents' lives and property, as well as of children and grandchildren in the future."

"We can never tolerate such an incident," Onaga said of the slaying of the Okinawan woman. "This is a crime simply because U.S. military bases exist. I lodge a strong protest against it."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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