U.S. hands over suspect to Japan

SINGAPORE, JULY 6 An American airman, suspected of raping a Japanese woman in Okinawa, was arrested by the Japanese police soon after the U.S. authorities handed him over today.

Earlier, following enormous pressure, the U.S. announced that it would hand over the American airman, U.S. Air Force Senior Staff Sergeant Timothy Woodland.

``The United States has decided to hand over the suspect,'' the Japanese Foreign Minister, Ms. Makiko Tanaka, told reporters after meeting the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Howard Baker.

``My Government is ready to transfer custody of Staff Sergeant Timothy Woodland prior to the indictment as requested by the Japanese Government....the U.S. Government has considered this case seriously and regrets misconduct by U.S. servicemen,'' said Mr. Baker after the meeting.

``The decision to transfer custody was taken after careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case....we have satisfied ourselves that out U.S. service member will receive fair and humane treatment throughout his custody.''

Reports from Tokyo said the woman, in her twenties, had been raped last Friday. The American airman, however, has denied the allegations.

``It was a very trying experience for me throughout. It is our responsibility to prove to the United States and the world that Japan's police and the administration of justice are fair,'' the Foreign Minister was quoted as telling reporters. The delay in handing over the suspect led to rising temperatures in Okinawa, with senior Japanese Ministers themselves saying that the emotions of the people on the island were ``running very high''.

``It is quite natural to have him handed over,'' said the Japanese Defence Minister, Gen Nakatani, said earlier. ``This could create a difficult situation for the (U.S.) bases here,'' he said pointing to the potential damage to U.S.-Japan relations.

The Okinawa Governor, Mr. Keiichi Inamine, had gone to the extent of calling for a reduction in U.S. troop levels and a revision of a U.S.-Japan agreement that prevents handing over of American military personnel except for serious crimes.

Soon after the American announcement that the suspect would be handed over, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Yasuo Fukuda, expressed satisfaction at the American decision and said he hoped the investigation into the case would proceed smoothly.