Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Alleged deserter spends first day outside N Korea

REUNITED Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi said he wants to help broker a deal with the US that will allow Charles Robert Jenkins and his family to live together

AFP , JAKARTA

Former abductee Hitomi Soga, second right, of Japan hugs her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, right, upon her arrival with their daughters, Mika, left, and Belinda, at Jakarta airport on Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

An alleged US army defector to North Korea yesterday spent his first full day outside the Stalinist state in decades at a luxury Jakarta hotel following his tearful reunion with his Japanese wife.

Charles Robert Jenkins, 64, and wife Hitomi Soga, 45, were reunited on Friday at Sukarno-Hatta Airport after Jenkins and their daughters, Mika, 21, and Belinda, 18, arrived on a chartered flight from Pyongyang.

"They will stay by themselves this morning in their suite, having breakfast together," Japanese embassy spokesman Toshihide Kawa-saki said.

He said no activities were scheduled for the family and he expected them to stay in their two-bedroom suite all day.

Jenkins, who held the rank of sergeant in the US Army, is believed to be making his first trip outside North Korea since he disappeared near the border with South Korea in 1965.

Soga was kidnapped from the Japanese island of Sado in 1978 while on a shopping trip and taken to North Korea to teach its spies Japanese language and customs. She married Jenkins in 1980, apparently when he was teaching her English.

His wife was allowed to leave for Japan along with four other kidnap victims in October 2002 following a landmark summit between Japan and North Korea. The daughters stayed behind in North Korea.

Jenkins and Soga looked "fine and happy," according to Kyoko Nakayama, special adviser to the Japanese cabinet office who met them yesterday morning, Kawasaki said.

He had no further details. "We are trying to give them privacy as much as possible," Kawasaki said.

When reporters tried to reach the family by telephone a hotel operator said the names Jenkins, Soga and Hitomi were "not registered in our system."

Japanese officials said three North Koreans accompanied Jenkins and his daughters to Jakarta.

"This matter is not an issue between states. It will be left up to the will of the family," one of the North Korean officials told reporters at the hotel.

It remains unclear how long the Jenkins family will remain in Indonesia.

The third-country meeting, paid for by Japan, avoids the risk of the US prosecuting him. Indonesia does not have an extradition treaty with the US, while Japan would have a treaty obligation to hand him over to the US.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said on Friday he will try to have Soga and her family live together in Japan.

"I want to see Japan and the United States find a mutually desirable solution based on their relationship of firm mutual trust," he said.

North Korea also appeared ready to let Jenkins and his family live together in Japan, the Jiji Press quoted a senior Japanese foreign ministry official as saying.

But Washington considers Jenkins a deserter, saying he left four notes stating his intention to defect. His family in the US say they believe he was captured and brainwashed.

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