US slaps drinking ban on 18 600 sailors in Japan
07 June 2016, 15:34
Toyko - The US Navy banned drinking and restricted off-base activity Monday for its personnel in Japan after a sailor was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving on the island of Okinawa in the latest incident where suspected criminal activity has sparked public anger.
Crimes by US military personnel, especially on Okinawa where the public is fighting to get rid of US bases, are often pointed to as reasons why the US soldiers should go.
The US has 18 600 sailors stationed in Japan.
In the latest incident, Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia, 21, assigned to Kadena base in Okinawa, was arrested on Sunday after driving the wrong way on a freeway and smashing head-on into two vehicles, said police spokesperson Takashi Shirado. Mejia was not hurt, but two people in the other cars were slightly injured, he said.
Under Monday's order, US Navy personnel will not be allowed to drink at all, off or on base, and cannot freely leave the base grounds, except for commuting from an off-base home to work, or for necessary errands such as picking up children or groceries.
The order will remain until training is carried out and the military feels comfortable everyone understands "responsible behavior," a Navy statement said.
"These measures are not taken lightly," said Rear Adm. Matthew Carter. "For decades, we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan. It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship, and the US-Japan alliance as a whole."
History of crimes
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed anger about the recurring misbehavior of American soldiers, noting US measures taken so far had not been enough.
"There needs to be a fundamental resolution," he told reporters.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida raised the issue with US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, and asked the US to do more to prevent a recurrence.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the US intended to work with Japan to prevent such tragedies in the future.
Cook said the decision to ban alcohol came from the Navy commander and did not apply to other forces stationed in Japan.
"Obviously, this is a deeply concerning event that we wish had not taken place and we're all going to be cooperating with Japanese authorities fully in this investigation and in doing what we can to prevent these kinds of things from ever happening again," Cook said at a briefing in Washington.
Crimes committed by US forces in Okinawa are highly resented by residents, and US personnel were already under a midnight curfew with off-base drinking banned after the arrest in May of a former US Marine who worked on an American military base in the disappearance of a Japanese woman later found dead.
In March, a sailor was arrested on charges of raping a Japanese woman. A 1995 rape of a schoolgirl in which three US servicemen were convicted set off widespread outrage.
Japan and the US have been working together to relocate a US Marine Corps air station from a densely populated neighborhood in central Okinawa, which houses the majority of US troops stationed in Japan under a bilateral security agreement, to another part of the island, but the project has repeatedly been delayed.