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Media Reports: Japan Asked US Not to Prosecute Deserter Married to Kidnapped Japanese - 2004-05-16

Japanese media say their government has asked the United States not to prosecute a U.S. military deserter who may be coming to Japan soon from North Korea. The former Army sergeant is married to a Japanese woman who was abducted by the North Koreans and is now back in Japan.

Japanese media are reporting that Tokyo is asking Washington to give special consideration to the case of the American deserter.

Charles Jenkins is listed as deserting his U.S. Army post in South Korea near the demilitarized zone in 1965. Later, in North Korea, he married Hitomi Soga, who had been kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken to Pyongyang. The couple has two daughters who remain in North Korea.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is scheduled to make an official visit to Pyongyang on Saturday where he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Mr. Koizumi is expected to press Mr. Kim to immediately release the relatives of five abducted Japanese who returned home in 2002.

Japanese media say Mr. Koizumi intends to bring the eight family members, including Mr. Jenkins, back to Japan that day on a government plane.

The secretary-general of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, Shinzo Abe, says resolving the fate of Mr. Jenkins is an important issue for Japan.

Mr. Abe says North Korea must allow Mr. Jenkins to leave, so he can visit his wife in Japan.

The LDP official also says Japan must take up the matter with the United States and ask that Mr. Jenkins be granted a pardon or immunity from prosecution.

Japanese foreign ministry officials say Mr. Jenkins has previously told them he fears arrest if he enters Japan.

The U.S. Defense Department has said court martial charges were sworn against Sergeant Jenkins in 1996. There is no statute of limitations on prosecuting U.S. soldiers who desert overseas.

Both Tokyo and Pyongyang appear eager to resolve the decades-long issue of the kidnapped. Japan says settling the matter is a pre-condition to talks on normalizing diplomatic relations, which would clear the way for desperately needed aid for the communist state.

Last November, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that he opposed any pardon for the former Army sergeant but the Pentagon said no final decision had been made.

The U.S. State Department on Friday said Japan had notified and consulted with U.S. officials about Mr. Koizumi's upcoming visit to North Korea. A spokesman said Washington has consistently supported Japan's efforts to gain the release of family members of the abductees, but he made no direct mention of Mr. Jenkins.