U.S. military contacted over sailors suspected in murder in Japan

Japan's Foreign Ministry has asked the U.S. military about the suspected involvement of American sailors in the killing of a Japanese woman near Tokyo earlier this week, an official said Thursday. "We are in contact with the U.S. side and gathering information on the (murder) case," ministry official Naoki Kumagai said, adding details couldn't be disclosed.

Yoshie Sato, 56, was found beaten and unconscious in a staircase in a commercial building in Yokosuka, near Tokyo, on Tuesday, Kanagawa prefectural (state) police spokesman Motofumi Hasegawa said. She died from internal bleeding.

Police believe the victim was attacked during a robbery on her way to work, Kyodo News agency reported. Without providing sources, Kydo said U.S. Navy authorities apprehended several sailors suspected of involvement in Sato's death, including a crew member from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, which is stationed at the Yokosuka base. However, police refused Thursday to link U.S. servicemen to the murder. U.S. Navy officials were not immediately available for comment.

In 1995, an uproar over the brutal rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen on Japan's southern island of Okinawa led to the relocation of an air base to a less densely populated part of the prefecture.

The rape case also resulted in an agreement with the U.S. military that it would hand over American suspects in serious crimes to Japanese authorities for pre-indictment investigation. In October, Tokyo and Washington agreed to move 7,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, and shift within Japan some of the 43,000 U.S. troops that remain, reports the AP. I.L.

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