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Okinawa rape trial opens

The latest in a string of incidents involving U.S. servicemen has sparked anger among Okinawa residents  

TOKYO, Japan -- The trial of a U.S. serviceman accused of raping a Japanese woman has begun in Okinawa.

Timothy Woodland denies the charge, saying he and the alleged victim had consensual sex, but the case has renewed concerns over the conduct of the large number of U.S. troops on the southern Japan island.

Staff Sgt. Timothy Woodland, 24, faces a minimum of two years in prison if convicted of raping the 20-year-old woman.

Prosecutors allege Woodland raped the woman in June in a parking lot outside a bar. He is being tried in a Japanese court because the alleged crime occurred off base.

Woodland was stationed at Kadena Air Base, about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo. U.S. military officials say Air Force regulations prohibit release of his hometown.

New pact

The case sparked calls in Japan to revise the U.S.-Japan agreement governing the nearly 50,000 American military personnel in Japan.

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Under that agreement, the United States is not required to hand over criminal suspects until they are formally charged.

But the 1995 rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen on Okinawa prompted Washington to agree to give "sympathetic consideration" to handing over U.S. military personnel suspected of "heinous" crimes prior to their indictment,

The agreement, however, does not oblige them to do so and Woodland's handover was delayed while U.S. officials received assurances his rights would be protected.

Some human rights activists have charged that Japan's lengthy detention period -- up to 23 days -- before indictment gives police time to force confessions out of suspects.

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