Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Dogged Japanese media go barking up the wrong tree

REUTERS , TOKYO

When Charles Robert Jenkins, the former US soldier who has spent the last 40 years in North Korea, left the communist state yesterday morning, Japanese media were desperate to know if he intended to stay away permanently.

And they got no help from his dog.

In a strange tale made stranger by the obsessive musings of Japanese pundits, the media had unleashed its attention on an unlikely target: the Jenkins family dog.

Jenkins, 64, a North Carolina native who Washington wants to put on trial as a deserter, left Pyongyang with his two grown daughters to be reunited with his Japanese wife in Indonesia.

Japan's media had hoped the family dog might provide the vital clue: if Jenkins brought the dog, he intended to stay for some time in Indonesia. No dog, the reasoning went, and he intended a quick return to Pyongyang.

But just hours before Jenkins was due to arrive at the airport in Pyongyang, and the dog-watching could begin, a newspaper reported that the tell-tale pooch was already dead.

"Both of them are dead of old age," the Yomiuri Shimbun quoted a Japanese government official as saying, referring to the dog and its predecessor.

Jenkins has been a household name in Japan ever since his wife, 45-year-old Hitomi Soga, was released by North Korea two years ago along with four other Japanese abductees.

Jenkins, who met and married Soga in North Korea, had previously refused to join her in Japan for fear he would be handed over to the US for a court martial.

Indonesia, unlike Japan, has no extradition treaty with the US, so the media is speculating the family may live there for some time.

Yomiuri Shimbun said the Japanese government had made preparations in Indonesia in case Jenkins brought the dog.

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