TOKYO - The top U.S. military official in Okinawa apologized profusely yesterday for an incident on Monday in which a U.S. Marine allegedly entered a private residence on the southern Japanese island and sexually molested a 14-year-old girl.
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston visited Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine at the prefecture government's office to make a formal apology, which included a Japanese bow of contrition. The general was accompanied by the U.S. consul-general of Okinawa, Robert Lake.
Government officials said it was the first time a senior U.S. military official had made such a direct apology, despite numerous cases of violence and sexual misconduct involving U.S. soldiers stationed in Okinawa in recent years.
The general's apology is seen as an effort to smooth relations with the people of Okinawa, who have held rallies and protests over the incident in recent days, in advance of a summit meeting of world leaders that President Clinton is scheduled to attend this month on the island.
"I want to express to the family involved, as well as to the people of Okinawa, my sincerest apology and most profound regret for the incident and for the anxiety it has created," said Hailston, who is the regional coordinator for U.S. military forces in Okinawa.
The general's remarks underscore the widespread fear and concern that exist in Okinawa over sex crimes committed by U.S. troops stationed there since World War II. Historians have said that in the aftermath of the war, U.S. troops raped thousands of Okinawan women without reprisals.
Outrage against the U.S. military in Okinawa reached a climax in 1995 after three U.S. servicemen were convicted of kidnapping and raping a 12-year-old girl there.
Hailston's apology was also exceptional because the accused Marine has not been charged with a crime, although he remains in Okinawa police custody. The 19-year-old Marine's name has been withheld because he is a minor under Japanese law.