Sat, Jul 17, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US deserter will travel to Tokyo

SOGA SAGA The former American soldier, who allegedly defected to North Korea in 1965, will travel with his wife, former abductee Hitomi Soga to Japan for medical aid

AP , TOKYO

Japan will bring an accused US Army deserter to Tokyo for medical treatment this weekend even though he is wanted by Washington on desertion charges, an official said yesterday.

Charles Jenkins, accused of defecting to North Korea in 1965, will be hospitalized in Tokyo tomorrow after he arrives with his Japanese wife and their two daughters, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said at a news conference.

Bringing Jenkins to Japan is a top political priority for Tokyo.

His wife, Hitomi Soga, was kidnapped and taken to the North by communist agents in 1978. She wasn't allowed to return to her homeland until 2002, when the North admitted it had abducted more than a dozen Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to teach Japanese to its spies.

Since then, Soga has been living separated from her family because Jenkins declined to leave North Korea over fears the US would demand his extradition to face desertion charges. The US may not ask for custody while he is hospitalized for medical treatment, however.

Soga says she wants to live in Japan with her family.

"Jenkins must be treated so he can recover soon," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters yesterday. "There is no change to our policy of enabling Soga's family to live in Japan together."

Japanese doctors sent by the government to examine Jenkins in Indonesia, where the family reunited, recommended he be sent to Japan for further care. Hosoda said Jenkins is suffering from problems following abdominal surgery in North Korea.

Washington says Jenkins is wanted on four changes including desertion. He could face life in prison if convicted.

On Thursday, officials in Washington reiterated that the US would pursue its case against Jenkins.

"Once he is in Japan, he ... falls under the authority of the US military," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington. "We intend to request custody when we have the legal opportunity to do so."

Jenkins, 64, has apparently never been processed out of the military and presumably would be subject to US military arrest and court-martial in Japan, where some 50,000 US troops are based under a mutual security pact.

Neither Koizumi nor Hosoda would directly comment on whether Jenkins should turn himself in to US authorities.

"This is a matter that must be considered from many angles," Hosoda said.

Jenkins, a North Carolina native, allegedly abandoned his US Army unit on the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in 1965 and defected to the North, where he met Soga.

The family was reunited last week in Indonesia, which does not have an extradition treaty with the US.

Japanese doctors sent by the government to examine Jenkins recommended he be sent to Japan for further care. Jenkins may have to have another operation in Japan, Hosoda said previously.

A North Korean official in Indonesia told reporters he wouldn't stand in the way of Jenkins traveling to Japan.

"Wherever the family decides to live, we will respect their wishes," Japanese public broadcaster NHK showed one of the officials telling reporters in Jakarta. "We hope Jenkins recovers."

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