Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US `cannot negotiate' about Jenkins

PLEA BARGAIN The US said it cannot make any deals over the case against the alleged deserter, and that it would seek custody of him `at an appropriate time'

AFP , WASHINGTON

The US said on Friday it cannot negotiate with Japan over the legal status of an alleged US army deserter to North Korea, even though Tokyo has been pushing for his case to be resolved soon.

Charles Robert Jenkins, 64, who allegedly defected to North Korea in 1965 while serving with the US army in South Korea, is in Tokyo with his Japanese wife, whom he had met in the communist state, and their two daughters.

"The State Department cannot negotiate the outcome of a legal process and is not involved in any such discussions with Japan," department spokesman Richard Boucher's office said in a written reply on Friday to a question raised by the media the previous day.

The Japanese government has been pushing for a quick resolution to Jenkins' case because the plight of his wife, Hitomi Soga, has generated enormous sympathy among the Japanese public.

"We hope the case will be resolved quickly, rather than taking a long time to deal with it, for the sake of Mrs Soga's family in particular," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said on Friday.

Jenkins was an army sergeant when he disappeared while on patrol near the demilitarized zone in January 1965.

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

Soga, 45, who was abducted by North Korean agents in 1978 and married Jenkins two years later, returned to Japan in 2002 following negotiations personally undertaken by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during a trip to Pyongyang.

Last month, Japanese authorities brought Jenkins and his two daughters from North Korea to Indonesia -- which does not have an extradition treaty with the US -- to be reunited with Soga. Japanese officials later decided to take Jenkins to Tokyo to undergo urgent medical treatment following complications from stomach surgery in Pyongyang.

Jenkins met with a US military lawyer on Thursday at a Tokyo hospital where he is being treated, amid media speculations he was considering plea bargaining to avoid severe punishment by the US military justice system.

Boucher said on Friday that Washington had informed the Japanese government that "we will seek custody of Sergeant Jenkins at an appropriate time.

Boucher also said that US military doctors had been in contact with their Japanese counterparts treating Jenkins.

"We are not prepared to comment further on any legal issues," he said, referring questions regarding military legal procedures to the US Department of Defense.

The US wants to court martial Jenkins on four charges, including deserting to North Korea -- which is the most serious and carries a maximum life penalty -- and aiding the enemy.

The US has a treaty with Japan covering jurisdiction over members of the US military in Japan under which Jenkins could be transferred to US custody for court martial in Japan rather than be extradited.

Jenkins' relatives in North Carolina said they spent a week in Tokyo last month trying to see him but were prevented from doing so by Japanese officials fearful of causing diplomatic waves.

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