July 4, 2005

US soldier arrested in Japan, allegedly molested girl

TOKYO (Reuters) - A U.S. Air Force staff sergeant stationedon Japan's southern island of Okinawa has been arrested onsuspicion of having molested a 10-year-old Japanese girl, localpolice said on Monday.

The incident was condemned by the governor of Okinawa, hometo about half the U.S. military presence in Japan, and wheremany have long resented bearing what they see as an unfairburden for maintaining the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Armando Valdez, 27, stationedat Kadena air base in Okinawa, was arrested by police on Sundayon suspicion of having touched the breasts of a 10-year-oldJapanese girl, Okinawa police officials said.

Valdez, however, denied having done so, said Choei Arata,an official at the Okinawa police department.

"He denies it, saying he ... did not touch her breasts,"Arata said.

Japanese officials condemned the incident, and the U.S.military said it was cooperating with Japanese authorities toascertain the facts and circumstances.

"We are holding discussions with the U.S. side so that thistype of thing does not happen from now on. It is extremelyregrettable," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told anews conference.

Hosoda said Japanese officials have asked U.S. officials toprevent a recurrence, and added that the suspect was now beingquestioned by police in Okinawa.

"Such an incident is a serious crime that tramples on thehuman rights of women, and when considering that the victim isan elementary school student, absolutely cannot be forgiven,"Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine said in a statement. "I can'thelp but conclude that there are problems with the disciplineof U.S. forces and feel strong anger and indignation," Inamineadded.

The U.S. military in Japan said it regretted the anxietythe incident had caused the local community.

"We believe this type of alleged behavior is completelyunacceptable and are committed to working with localauthorities as much as possible," said Colonel VictorWarzinski, spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan.

Okinawa is Japan's poorest prefecture and about half of theU.S. military in Japan is based there. Fury over the rape of aJapanese schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen in Okinawa in 1995rocked the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship.

Japanese and U.S. authorities are currently discussing arealignment of U.S. forces in Japan -- part of a globalrealignment of the U.S. military -- and many in Okinawa hopethat one result will be a smaller U.S. military presence.