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U.S. serviceman accused of rape in Okinawa

Demonstrators protest the construction of a US Marine air base in the remote Henoko part of Okinawa island, to replace the existing Futenma facility, in front of the National Diet in Tokyo on February 21, 2016.

Story highlights

  • U.S. serviceman arrested for rape of Japanese tourist
  • Previous sexual assaults by U.S. servicemen have inflamed tensions

(CNN)A U.S. serviceman has been arrested in the southern Japanese prefecture of Okinawa on suspicion of raping a Japanese tourist, local police have confirmed to CNN. The alleged attack took place in the serviceman's hotel room in Naha, the prefectural capital.

The man, identified by Okinawan police as 24-year old Navy sailor Justin Castellanos, stationed at Camp Schwab in Okinawa, allegedly took the victim, a 40-year-old woman from the Japanese prefecture of Kyushu, to his room after finding her asleep, drunk, in the hotel's lobby before raping her.
    Reports say that he has denied the accusation. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo declined to comment about the incident.
    "It is a crime which seriously violates human rights of women and should never be tolerated," Okinawa governor Takeshi Onaga told reporters at a press conference.
    "We are going to lodge a strong complaint ​against ​U.S. forces in Japan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Defense.
    "It is reported the victim is a tourist. Tourism is Okinawa's main industry and we have been making efforts to ensure the safety of tourists."
    A U.S. State Department said in a briefing that the U.S. government takes "the reports very, very seriously," and said that the U.S. Navy was also investigating the incident.
    "If there is a need to hold someone accountable, they will do that... (the Japanese government and U.S. Navy) will do that in open and transparent way," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
    "We take our relationship with the people of Okinawa as with everybody in Japan very, very seriously, It's a strong alliance, it's a deep and abiding friendship and we have great respect for the Japanese people.. If (the incident did occur), it's obviously inconsistent with our values and principles and what we expect of our people overseas."

    Previous crimes

    U.S. troops stationed in the prefecture have previously been convicted of assault and other crimes. In 1995, three U.S. servicemen, Rodrico Harp, Kendrick Ledet and Marcus Gill, who were at the time stationed in Okinawa, were convicted of the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl, and in 2013, two American sailors were convicted by a Japanese court of the 2012 rape of a Japanese woman that they were found to have followed from a bar.
    In the past, crimes committed by U.S. troops have sparked huge protests in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan. The bulk of U.S. forces in Japan are stationed in Okinawa and locals complain that they are shouldering an unfair burden.
    This latest incident comes as Tokyo and the U.S. military have been attempting to relocate U.S. forces within Okinawa, mostly from the Futenma air base, which is located in an urban area, to a replacement base in the Henoko coastal area of Okinawa.
    The Okinawa government recently won a court case with Tokyo over the creation of an alternate base at Henoko, although construction of a new facility has been ordered to continue at the site. The case may affect the presence of U.S. troops in the southern prefecture, with a transfer of U.S. Marines from the southern prefecture to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, part of a wider realignment of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region.