Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US to pursue case against defector to North Korea

DIPLOMACY Charles Jenkins is safe from prosecution in Indonesia but medical treatment and family may take him to Japan, which has an extradition treaty with the US

AP , TOKYO

The US plans to pursue a case against accused Army deserter Charles Jenkins, but might not demand that he be turned over immediately to US custody if he comes to Japan, the US ambassador said yesterday.

Ambassador Howard Baker's comments, to a small group of journalists at the US Embassy, came as Japanese officials -- including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi -- said the 64-year-old American should be taken to Japan for medical treatment.

Baker said the US government was "sympathetic" to Jenkins' unspecified health problems, and that Washington was not insisting he be treated at a hospital at a US military base if he came to Japan.

"If and when he comes to Japan we will ask for custody -- exactly when remains to be seen," Baker said.

"It's certainly possible he could come to Japan, that the US would insist on its rights, but that actual custody would not be sought or consummated under some circumstances," the ambassador added.

Jenkins, a North Carolina native, is accused of abandoning his US Army unit on the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in 1965 and defecting to the North. He has lived there since then, and has appeared in Northern propaganda films.

Since last week, Jenkins has been in Jakarta, Indonesia, meeting with his Japanese wife, Hitomi Soga. Soga was kidnapped by Northern agents in 1978 and the two were married in North Korea, but Soga was allowed to return to Japan in 2002.

Jenkins and his two daughters remained in North Korea for fear of US prosecution.

Jenkins has apparently never been processed out of the military and presumably would be subject to US military arrest and courts-martial were he to return to Japan, where some 50,000 US troops are based.

The Japanese government, eager to have Soga's family reunited in Japan, has urged the US for leniency in Jenkins' case so he could come to Japan without arrest.

The case has been complicated by Jenkins' health troubles.

He was being examined by Japanese doctors in Indonesia -- which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the US -- who have recommended he be sent to Japan for further care.

National broadcaster NHK reported yesterday that Jenkins suffers from peritonitis, an inflammation of the walls of the abdomen that can become serious if not properly treated.

"I think it's better he receive treatment in Japan," Koizumi said.

Japanese media, citing unidentified government officials, reported yesterday that Jenkins could come to Japan as soon as Sunday.

Japan's top government spokesman said that Washington and Tokyo had still not reached any agreement about how to treat Jenkins' legal case, and that attention to his health problems could come first.

"There is a possibility that Mr. Jenkins may have to receive treatment before we reach a final agreement," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.

He added that Jenkins, who underwent surgery on his abdomen in North Korea, may need another operation, according to the Japanese doctors.

Baker said the US had not swerved from its determination to pursue a case against Jenkins.

"As and when we can gain custody of him, he will be charged. With what and when and on what basis, I can't tell you," Baker said.

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