September 29, 1995
Web posted at: 6:10 a.m. EDT (1010 GMT)
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- U.S. authorities swiftly handed over three U.S. soldiers accused of raping a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl, following their indictment Friday in the crime by a Japanese court.
Navy Seaman Marcus D. Gill, Marine Private First Class Kendrick M. Ledet and Marine Private First Class Rodrico Harp are behind bars now in Naha, the provincial capital of Okinawa.
U.S. authorities initially refused to turn the three soldiers over to the Japanese, citing a clause in the Status of Forces Agreement that bars such a move until Japan formally issued an indictment. That process usually takes up to a month of inquiries before an indictment, but Japanese prosecutors pressed the case forward quickly.
"The indictment came very swiftly and we welcome that," said top Japanese government spokesman Koken Nosaka.
If convicted, the soldiers could be sentenced to life in prison. Authorities have not set a date for the trial to begin.
Japanese investigator believe the three "gang-raped" the elementary school student after abducting her on September 4. The incident angered both the citizens of Okinawa and its government. Sit-ins and protests have targeted the U.S. presence on the island.
The U.S. occupied the island from the end of World War II until 1972; since then the island has been home to over three-quarters of the U.S.'s military facilities in Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama addressed the alleged rape during a speech to parliament on Friday, calling it a "painful incident and extremely regrettable."
"We will strongly demand that the United States will not repeat such an incident in light of the sentiment of the Okinawans," Murayama said.
This latest case is aggravated by another rape case in 1993. Then, a U.S. soldier, charged by Japanese prosecutors in the rape of an Okinawan woman, fled the country to avoid trial.
U.S. troops will suspend military training for a day on October 4, according to Secretary of Defense William Perry. Perry said the time will be used for reflection on the incident and "our obligations to the Okinawan people."
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