A Japanese court on Thursday convicted a U.S. Air Force serviceman of molesting a 10-year-old Japanese girl on the southern island of Okinawa earlier this year, sentencing him to a suspended prison term, a court spokesman said.

The Naha District Court gave Staff Sgt. Armando Valdez, 28, a suspended prison sentence of 18 months for indecent assault, the court spokesman Yusuke Katsuta said.

Valdez was arrested in July after groping the girl on her way to Sunday church service. He pleaded guilty.

Valdez, who has worked as an aircraft maintenance engineer at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa since January, had no previous criminal record.

Okinawa accommodates about half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan.

Crimes linked to the U.S. military are a sensitive topic. In 1995, mass protests broke out after three U.S. servicemen raped a 12-year-old girl on the island.

Residents are protesting an agreement reached earlier this month between Tokyo and Washington to relocate a U.S. Marines Corps air base facilities in central Okinawa to another site on the island, saying it won't help reduce Okinawa's burden.

Okinawa is about 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo.