The US Navy lifted some restrictions on off-base activity in Japan on Friday but maintained a prohibition on alcohol consumption as the military tries to repair aggravated relations with a Japanese public outraged by recent alleged crimes.
US Naval Forces of Japan said in a statement that sailors are now allowed to leave base. The restrictions were imposed Monday following the weekend arrest of a U.S. sailor for alleged drunken driving.
In a separate case, Japanese police on Thursday said a U.S. military contractor arrested on suspicion of abandoning the body of a young woman on Okinawa is now officially the prime suspect in her murder and rape.
The arrest took up a significant part of a Japan-U.S. summit that was held a week later, causing President Barack Obama to apologize. The U.S. Marines on Okinawa issued an order two days later restricting celebrations and off-base drinking.
Police said Thursday that Kenneth Shinzato, who is also a former Marine, is now the prime suspect in the murder and rape of the 20-year-old woman whose body was found last month, three weeks after she disappeared. An autopsy on the decomposed body could not determine the cause of death.
Okinawa police said the suspect hit the woman on the head with a club, dragged her into the weeds and raped her, while strangling her and stabbing her with a knife. Kyodo News service reported that Shinzato told police that he drove around for a few hours to find an assault target.
Police arrested Shinzato, 32, on May 19 after he told investigators where they could find the woman’s body in a forest.
Born Kenneth Gadson, reportedly from New York City, he is married to a Japanese woman and used her family name, Shinzato, instead of his own. He worked on Kadena Air Base as an employee for a contractor that provides services to U.S. bases on Okinawa.
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who has demanded that the central government do more to reduce the military burden on the southern islands, called the crime ”extremely inhuman and dastardly” and ”unforgivable.”
Tensions are already high over a plan to relocate a Marine Corps air station to a less-populated part of Okinawa. About half of about 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan are on the island, and many residents resent the burden they bear for the defense of Japan and the region. They want the air station to be moved off Okinawa all together.
The Futenma relocation is part of a broader plan to reduce the impact of U.S. military bases that was triggered by the 1995 gang rape of a teenage girl by three American servicemen. The latest murder has sparked calls for a further reduction of American bases, as well as a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement, under which the handover of suspects accused of crimes while on duty or on base to Japanese authorities is not compulsory.