TOKYO: The U.S. Navy banned drinking and restricted off-base activity Monday for its personnel in Japan after a sailor was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving on the island of Okinawa in the latest incident where suspected criminal activity has sparked public anger.
Crimes by U.S. military personnel, especially on Okinawa where the public is fighting to get rid of U.S. bases, are often pointed to as reasons why the U.S. soldiers should go.
In the latest incident, Petty Officer 2nd Class Aimee Mejia, 21, assigned to Kadena base in Okinawa, was arrested Sunday after driving the wrong way on a freeway and smashing head-on into two vehicles, said police spokesman Takashi Shirado. Mejia was not hurt, but two people in the other cars were slightly injured, he said.
Under Monday’s order, U.S. Navy personnel will not be allowed to drink at all, off or on base, and cannot freely leave the base grounds, except for commuting from an off-base home to work, or for necessary errands such as picking up children or groceries.
The order will remain until training is carried out and the military feels comfortable everyone understands “responsible behavior,” a Navy statement said.
“These measures are not taken lightly,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Carter. “For decades, we have enjoyed a strong relationship with the people of Japan. It is imperative that each sailor understand how our actions affect that relationship, and the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole.”
Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga expressed anger about the recurring misbehavior of American soldiers, noting U.S. measures taken so far had not been enough.
“There needs to be a fundamental resolution,” he told reporters.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida raised the issue with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, and asked the U.S. to do more to prevent a recurrence.
Crimes committed by U.S. forces in Okinawa are highly resented by residents, and U.S. personnel were already under a midnight curfew with off-base drinking banned after the arrest in May of a former U.S. Marine who worked on an American military base in the disappearance of a Japanese woman later found dead.
In March, a sailor was arrested on charges of raping a Japanese woman. A 1995 rape of a schoolgirl in which three U.S. servicemen were convicted set off widespread outrage.
Japan and the U.S. have been working together to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps air station from a densely populated neighborhood in central Okinawa, which houses the majority of U.S. troops stationed in Japan under a bilateral security agreement, to another part of the island, but the project has repeatedly been delayed.