Mon, Jul 19, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Ex-US soldier, family arrive in Japan

ALLEGED DESERTER The family immediately boarded a special bus with a police escort, presumably to be taken to a hospital where Charles Jenkins is to be treated

AP , TOKYO

Accused US Army deserter Charles Jenkins, left, and his Japanese wife Hitomi Soga, right, arrive at Tokyo's Haneda International Airport yesterday. Behind them is one of their daughters, Mika.

PHOTO: AP

Accused US Army deserter Charles Jenkins and his family arrived yesterday in Japan, where he risks US prosecution on charges he defected to North Korea in the 1960s.

Jenkins, who appeared frail and weary as he disembarked slowly with the help of a cane, was to be hospitalized in Tokyo later yesterday for abdominal troubles following an operation in North Korea.

The family arrived from Jakarta, Indonesia, where they were reunited last week for the first time in about two years. They immediately boarded a special bus with a police escort, presumably to be taken to the hospital, where the whole family was expected to stay.

The Japanese government has pushed for US clemency for the North Carolina native, who met his wife, Hitomi Soga, in North Korea after she was kidnapped from Japan in 1978 by Northern agents.

Soga was allowed to return to Japan in 2002, but Jenkins and their two daughters stayed behind in the reclusive nation for fear of US prosecution. US officials, however, have suggested they will allow him to be treated before seeking custody.

As they boarded the plane in Jakarta, Jenkins smiled and waved, saying sayonara, or goodbye in Japanese, to the media and officials gathered to see them off. His wife, Hitomi Soga, bowed and said, "Thank you."

Jenkins disappeared from his US Army post along the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea in 1965 when he was 24. He later appeared in North Korean anti-US propaganda films and taught English in the North.

Soga met him after she was kidnapped from her hometown and taken to North Korea to teach Japanese language and culture to communist spies.

She spent the next 24 years cut off from the outside world and was only allowed to return to Japan in 2002 when North Korea acknowledged it had abducted at least 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

Reuniting Soga with Jenkins and their two North Korean-born daughters has become a top priority for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who made a rare personal appeal to US President George W. Bush for clemency in Jenkins' case.

Jenkins' nephew, James Hyman, flew to Japan to see his uncle.

In an interview on Japan's NTV TV network, which accompanied him on the flight to Tokyo, Hyman said he had received a letter from Soga telling him and his family about Jenkins.

"We hope that it being so long since he's been gone that he might not be prosecuted and we can get a pardon for him," Hyman said.

Jenkins' family denies that he is a deserter, maintaining that he was kidnapped by North Korea.

Although initially reluctant to join his wife in her homeland for fear of being extradited to the US, Jenkins said on Saturday he was ready to travel to Japan for the sake of his family.

He will likely get at least temporary reprieve from US authorities, however. Japanese doctors sent to Indonesia determined he would need to be hospitalized as soon as he arrived in Tokyo.

US Ambassador Howard Baker indicated on Saturday that Washington won't seek immediate custody of Jenkins and would allow doctors to treat him first.

Jenkins will fall under US military jurisdiction once he arrives in Tokyo because of treaties signed by the US and Japan covering US military personnel.

Jenkins and Soga chose to meet in Indonesia because the country doesn't have an extradition treaty with the US.

Before leaving Jakarta, Soga thanked the Indonesian people and government for hosting her family.

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