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Archive for Monday, July 19, 2004

Korean War defector puts freedom at stake

July 19, 2004

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— Gripping a cane and looking haggard, an American accused of deserting the U.S. Army and defecting to North Korea was hospitalized immediately after he arrived in Japan on Sunday, putting himself within the reach of U.S. authorities for the first time in 39 years.

Charles Jenkins, who vanished from his platoon in 1965 and later played devilish American characters in communist propaganda films, faced possible U.S. military prosecution on desertion and other charges in Japan, although American officials have suggested they will delay taking him into custody.

Jenkins' arrival, broadcast live by Japanese TV networks, drew deep public sympathy over the plight of his Japanese wife, Hitomi Soga, who married him after she was kidnapped in Japan by North Korean agents in 1978 and taken to the communist country.

The couple have two daughters, Mika, 21, and Belinda, 18.

The family arrived on a Japanese government-chartered flight from Jakarta, Indonesia, where they had held an emotional reunion after nearly two years of separation. Soga returned to Japan from North Korea with four other abductees in 2002, but Jenkins stayed behind with their daughters, fearing U.S. prosecution. Japan has an extradition treaty with the United States; Indonesia does not.

Japanese and American officials say Jenkins, 64, needs medical attention after abdominal surgery in North Korea and for other health problems.

He stepped painfully down the stairs from the government plane, clutching his cane as Soga supported him. When someone shouted to ask him how he felt, he shook his head sadly as he limped to a bus that took the family to a hospital.

The Japanese government, eager to reunite Soga's family, has pushed for U.S. clemency for the North Carolina native and stood by its position that Jenkins' health should take priority over his legal problems.

The United States has maintained its right to pursue a case against Jenkins. He was never officially discharged from the military and is subject to U.S. military authorities under an agreement between the United States and Japan, where some 50,000 U.S. troops are based.

Accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins and his Japanese wife,
Hitomi Soga, arrive at Tokyo's Haneda International Airport.
Jenkins flew Sunday into Japan on a flight from Jakarta, Indonesia,
for medical treatment.

Accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins and his Japanese wife, Hitomi Soga, arrive at Tokyo's Haneda International Airport. Jenkins flew Sunday into Japan on a flight from Jakarta, Indonesia, for medical treatment.

But American officials, including Ambassador Howard Baker, have said they are sympathetic to Jenkins' health troubles. Baker met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Saturday and said U.S. custody could be delayed.

Japanese officials say the United States had not officially asked to apprehend him.

Jenkins reached Japan just days after authorities here helped Washington with another fugitive case -- that of chess legend Bobby Fischer, who has been sought by the United States for attending a 1992 match in Yugoslavia despite international sanctions.

Fischer was detained Tuesday in Japan, in a move that showed it willing to cooperate while still making the case on leniency for Jenkins.

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