WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy sailor stationed on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa has been detained by Japanese police on suspicion of drunken driving, U.S. Forces-Japan said, in an incident likely to fuel further resentment of the heavy U.S. military presence in the region.
The statement, seen by Reuters on Sunday, said a vehicle driven by the sailor had been involved in a “serious three-car accident with injuries” on Saturday and that U.S. Navy officials were fully cooperating with police in Okinawa.
A U.S. official said the person detained was a 21-year-old female sailor.
“We deeply regret this incident and express our heartfelt sympathies for the accident victims and their families. We wish them a fast recovery. The sailor is in Japanese police custody for suspicion of driving while intoxicated, and we are cooperating fully with this investigation,” said Lt. Gen. John Dolan, the U.S. Forces, Japan commander.
Dolan said the U.S. military had “zero tolerance for driving under the influence” and that any military member convicted of doing so “faces severe consequences.”
The incident comes as the U.S. military observes a 30-day period of mourning at its bases on Okinawa, where an American civilian working at a U.S. military base was arrested last month on suspicion of dumping the body of a 20-year-old Japanese woman.
That incident stoked anger in Japan, prompting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to protest the killing during talks with U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of the Group of Seven summit in central Japan.
Many associate the bases with crime. The rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by U.S. military personnel in 1995 sparked huge anti-base demonstrations.
Okinawa, the site of a brutal World War Two battle, hosts 50,000 U.S. nationals, including 30,000 military personnel and civilians employed at U.S. bases, and many residents resent what they see as an unfair burden.
Both governments have wanted to keep the incident of the Japanese woman from fanning further opposition to an agreement to relocate the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base to a less populous part of Okinawa, a plan first agreed upon after the 1995 rape but opposed by the island’s governor and many residents who want the base off the island entirely.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Peter Cooney and Meredith Mazzilli