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May 29, 2017

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US envoy to Japan vows full cooperation in probe of rape case in Okinawa

TOKYO -- The U.S. envoy to Japan vowed "complete and unequivocal cooperation" Wednesday over the alleged rape of a local woman by two servicemen on an island fed up with the large American military presence.

Ambassador John Roos sought swiftly to reassure people on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa that he shared their anger over an incident that has the potential to act as a lightning rod for growing anti-U.S. feeling.

Roos said the U.S. government and military would "provide full, complete and unequivocal cooperation to the Japanese authorities in their investigation."

After a meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Shuji Kira, who is standing in while Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba is in Europe, Roos said: "I do understand the anger that many people feel with respect to this reported incident."

He said he wanted the Japanese people to know that he shared that anger.

"Not only me as a United States ambassador, but the entire United States government including our military will continue to work our hearts out to earn the trust of the Okinawan people and the people of Japan," he said.

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, a vocal critic of the size of the vast U.S. presence on the island, met Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and expressed his fury, describing the alleged crime as "insane."

Citing another case of sexual offence allegedly by a U.S. soldier in August, the governor told reporters: "This is nothing but abhorrent.

"We cannot accept this, no matter how much (the U.S. military presence) is claimed to be necessary for national security," he said.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also chimed in, saying the alleged crime was "intolerable."

The arrest of the two men on Tuesday is a potential flashpoint in relations between the U.S. military and their reluctant Okinawan hosts.

Previous criminal incidents have sparked angry, large-scale demonstrations, with participants demanding a trimming of the U.S. footprint. Around half of the 47,000 military personnel Washington has in Japan are based in Okinawa.

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