World

U.S. Marines on Okinawa told to keep low profile after sailor implicated in killing

A U.S. Marines commander in Japan has asked service people in the southwestern region of Okinawa to keep a low profile to show respect after a sailor allegedly stabbed a Japanese woman and then killed himself, the latest in a series of crimes that have outraged residents.

Gabriel A. Olivero is believed to have killed Japanese woman and then himself

This photo shows an apartment where a U.S. servicemen and a Japanese woman were found dead on Saturday in Chatan town, Okinawa, southwestern Japan. (Kyodo News via Associated Press)

A U.S. Marines commander in Japan has asked service people in the southwestern region of Okinawa to keep a low profile to show respect after a sailor allegedly stabbed a Japanese woman and then killed himself, the latest in a series of crimes that have outraged residents.

"As a sign of respect to a community that is angry and in shock, we should be unobtrusive," Lt. Gen. Eric Smith said in a letter dated Sunday.

The letter was made available Monday by a U.S. military official.

The letter, addressed to base leaders, asked everyone to avoid unneeded shopping, eating out or being overly loud so as to "demonstrate solidarity with our Okinawan neighbours."

The U.S. military identified the sailor as Gabriel A. Olivero from North Carolina. Japan's Foreign Ministry said the sailor stabbed the woman and killed himself Saturday.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, right, handed a letter of protest to Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, U.S. Marines commander in Japan in Naha on Monday. (Kyodo News via AP)

Okinawan people have long resented the heavy presence of U.S. troops, citing the resulting crime, aircraft noise and accidents, and destruction of nature.

"It's just the decent, right, and neighbourly thing to do," Smith said in the letter, while noting that most American troops are doing good work and he was not asking them to hide or be ashamed.

High-profile incidents

Although Okinawa accounts for less than one per cent of Japan's land space, it hosts about half of the 54,000 American troops stationed in Japan, and is home to 64 per cent of the land used by the U.S. bases in the country under a bilateral security treaty.

Tamaki met with Smith on Monday to discuss the need for more efforts to contain crime by U.S. service people on Okinawa.

Criminal incidents involving those serving in the U.S. military have occasionally caused outrage and protests amongst locals.

In 1995, a 12-year-old Japanese girl was abducted and raped, leading to the convictions of three U.S. servicemen, while an Air Force sergeant was sentenced to prison in 2002 for sexually assaulting a local woman.

An American working at the island's Kadena Airbase in a civilian capacity was sentenced to life in prison with hard labour in 2016 after the strangulation death of a 20-year-old woman.

A plan to relocate a Marine Corps air station called Futenma to a less populated part of Okinawa has also been contentious. Denny Tamaki, who was elected Okinawa's governor in October, is pushing to have the base moved off the island.

With files from CBC News