Officials: Molestation accusation adds to delicate situation on Okinawa
July 7, 2005
OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa – Reports that a Kadena airman molested an Okinawan schoolgirl Sunday complicate force realignment talks on the island, officials said Tuesday.
Staff Sgt. Armando Valdez, 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Kadena Air Base, has been detained by Japanese police since Sunday morning, accused of photographing and touching a 10-year-old girl’s breast.
Senior city and base officials expressed concerns Tuesday that the incident came at a highly inopportune time. It occurred "when residents are on edge" about rumors that Marine Corps Air Station Futenma units would move to Kadena Air Base, said Hideo Uehara, Okinawa City’s planning department director.
U.S. and Japanese governments have discussed moving Futenma’s assets to Kadena as an alternative to building an offshore air base near Camp Schwab.
Okinawans have pressed harder for Futenma’s closure since a Marine helicopter crashed next to that base in August. But several groups oppose building at Henoko, citing ecological concerns.
18th Wing Commander Brig. Gen Jan-Marc Jouas has expressed regret with local officials over how the reported molestation has affected "sensitive transformation talks," said Air Force spokesman Maj. Mike Paoli.
"But that expression has been not even secondary, but tertiary to the primary message of regret for how this has impacted the girl and her family and the overall impact on the local community," Paoli said.
Jouas spoke with the Okinawa City Council on Tuesday about the incident.
On Monday, the council unanimously adopted a protest resolution, saying what happened Sunday reminded Okinawans of the infamous 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three servicemembers.
The resolution stated that th schoolgirl involved Sunday "expressed her frightening experience, saying, ‘It was very scary. I thought I would be killed.’ We share her fear and her family’s anxiety and feel outrage over the inhumane act."
Even more shocking was that Valdez’s encounter with the schoolgirl occurred on a Sunday morning, the resolution stated, contending that "this incident is obvious proof how servicemembers are undisciplined."
According to an Okinawan police report, the incident occurred in Okinawa City’s Chuo district, outside Kadena’s Gate 2. Valdez lured the girl and her friend from a street into a parking lot and forced her to roll up her T-shirt, the report stated. He then touched her breast and photographed her with his cell phone camera, said a spokesman for the Okinawa prefectural police in Okinawa City. The girl ran into a nearby church while her friend fled to seek help, the spokesman said. Valdez, whose blood alcohol content was five times greater than Japan’s legal limit for intoxication, was apprehended while he was accosting a woman on a street in the area.
Valdez admitted to photographing the girl but denied touching her, police said.
The Naha Public Prosecutor’s Office will consider charges against Valdez pending completion of the police investigation, a police spokesman said.