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Japan, North Korea Plan Reunion for Separated Family - 2004-07-02

Japan's government says it is working to arrange a reunion for a Japanese woman separated from her family in North Korea for nearly two years. Japan and North Korea, which have no diplomatic relations, have discussed the issue repeatedly in recent months.

Hitomi Soga has not seen her American husband and two daughters since October of 2002, when she returned to Japan after 24 years in North Korea.

Ms. Soga, who was kidnapped in Japan by North Korean agents in 1978, has been pleading with her government to pressure Pyongyang to allow the rest of her family to leave.

Government spokesman Hiroyuki Hosoda said that arrangements are under way for the family to be reunited in Indonesia.

Mr. Hosoda added it is very difficult to quickly complete the logistical and security arrangements for the reunion, which is likely to take place on the island of Bali.

Ms. Soga, who works as a nurse, met Friday with local officials to discuss what support will be available for her family after the reunion.

During a brief exchange with reporters outside a local government building, Ms. Soga says she is delighted by news of the impending reunion, but it is unlikely the family will settle in Japan any time soon.

Her husband, Charles Jenkins, is listed by the United States as a military deserter and Japanese officials might be compelled to hand him over to U.S. forces for prosecution if he sets foot in Japan. He has lived in communist North Korea since 1965, after he disappeared from his U.S. Army post in South Korea.

Indonesia was chosen as the reunion point because it does not have an extradition treaty with the United States and maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea.

The breakthrough on the reunion came Thursday during a meeting between the Japanese and North Korean foreign ministers. They met the on the sidelines of a regional conference in Jakarta.

Ms. Soga, who was forced to teach North Korean spies Japanese customs and the language, married Mr. Jenkins in 1980.