Sat May 21, 2016 10:29AM
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga (R) listen to Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga at the latter’s official residence in Tokyo, March 4, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga (R) listen to Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga at the latter’s official residence in Tokyo, March 4, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The Japanese defense minister has conveyed an expression of formal protest to the commander of the US military base in Okinawa following the arrest of a base staff member connected with the suspicious killing of a local woman.

Japanese defense minister, Gen Nakatani, conveyed the protest during a trip to the southern island just days prior to a high-profile state visit to Japan by US President Barack Obama.

“I deliver a strong message of regret and at the same time make a protest,” Nakatani said to the US commander Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, as quoted by local public broadcaster NHK.

Nakatani also demanded assurances by the US military in Okinawa to enforce discipline among its troops.

Responding to the Japanese official, Nicholson said, “Our heartfelt prayers and condolences are offered to the family” of the woman killed.

Okinawan police arrested American national Kenneth Franklin Shinzato on Thursday for reportedly disposing of the woman’s body in a weed-covered area in southern Okinawa.

The suspect, a former US Marine who works at the US Kadena Air Base, has admitted to dumping the body of 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro in the wooded area but it is unclear whether he has been held responsible for the murder, too, or not.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed “outrage” on Friday following Franklin’s arrest. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida further summoned US ambassador Caroline Kennedy to hand her a note of protest, describing the case as “very cruel and atrocious.”

Obama is due to visit Japan next week for a two-day summit of Group of Seven countries, which concludes on Friday, before venturing the same day to Hiroshima — becoming the only sitting US president to visit the world’s first atomic-bombed city.

More than half of the 47,000 US military forces in Japan are stationed in Okinawa, and rapes and other crimes by service members have sparked local protests in the past.

In 1995, the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen triggered huge protests, prompting Washington to pledge efforts to strengthen troop discipline to prevent such crimes and reduce the US footprint on the island.