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U.S. surrenders sergeant to Japanese in rape case

American ambassador assured G.I.'s rights will be protected

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OKINAWA CITY, Japan — U.S. authorities handed over an American serviceman accused of rape to Japanese police today, resolving a standoff that strained relations and fanned resentment of the U.S. military in Okinawa.

Okinawa police took Staff Sgt. Timothy Woodland into custody at Kadena Air Base, where the suspect has been stationed, and took him to the police station, said base spokeswoman Lt. Col. Seavy Shapiro.

There, Woodland was formally placed under arrest, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The handover came after U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker announced in Tokyo that Washington had given the go ahead for the transfer.

Baker spoke late this afternoon after talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka. He said the decision had been made "after careful consideration of the facts."

Woodland, a 24-year-old stationed at Okinawa's Kadena Air Base, is suspected in the rape of a local woman in her 20s last week in a popular tourist area on the southern island.

Woodland has denied the allegations, and the U.S. government had refused to hand him over until it received assurances that his rights would be protected. The U.S. demands reportedly concern Woodland's legal defense and his access to a translator.

The handover was made after a joint U.S.-Japan commission met to finalize arrangements.

Woodland underwent questioning at a Japanese police station today. He was moved back to Kadena in the late afternoon to await word from the commission, before being driven back to the police station for the formal transfer.

"In our discussion with the Japanese government, we have satisfied ourselves that our U.S. service member will receive fair and humane treatment throughout his custody," Baker said, adding that the U.S. government regretted any misconduct.

The Japanese government praised the accord.

"We both might have lacked understanding about each other, but we eventually reached an amicable solution, and that's good," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Tanaka told reporters after her meeting with Baker that the agreement would dispel any doubts about the fairness of the Japanese criminal justice system.

Washington's hesitation to give approval for Woodland's handover had generated anger on Okinawa and renewed criticism of the special legal status granted to the 26,000 troops stationed here.