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Japan protests sex assault cases involving US military on Okinawa and their delayed disclosure

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s government protested Friday to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo over at least two sexual assault cases involving American servicemembers on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa which were only recently made public.

In one case, an Air Force member is accused of assaulting a 16-year-old girl in December, while the other, which dates from May, involves a Marine who is accused of assaulting a 21-year-old woman.

The case involving the assault of the teenager is a reminder to many Okinawans of the high-profile 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemembers, which sparked massive protests against the heavy U.S. troop presence on Okinawa. It led to a 1996 agreement between Tokyo and Washington on a closure of a key U.S. air station, though the plan has been delayed due to protests at the site designated for its relocation on another part of the island.

Some 50,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Japan under a bilateral security pact, about half of them on Okinawa, whose strategic role is seen increasingly important for the Japan-U.S. military alliance in the face of growing tensions with China. Japan’s southwestern shift of its own military also focuses heavily on Okinawa and its nearby islands.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters Friday it was “extremely regrettable” the two alleged sexual assaults occurred within months. Japan “takes it seriously” and Vice Foreign Minister Masataka Okano conveyed regrets to U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, requesting disciplinary and preventive measures, Hayashi said.

“I believe that the U.S. side also takes this matter seriously,” Hayashi said. “Criminal cases and accidents by U.S. military personnel cause great anxiety to local