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Accused US Army Deserter Arrives in Japan - 2004-07-18


An alleged U.S. Army deserter has arrived in Japan amid high-level negotiations between Tokyo and Washington over his fate.

For the first time since he disappeared from his unit in South Korea in 1965, U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Jenkins is under U.S. military jurisdiction.

Sergeant Jenkins, along with his Japanese wife and their two North Korean-born daughters, flew Sunday from Jakarta to Tokyo. Sergeant Jenkins and Hitomi Soga had been separated for nearly two years until they were reunited in the Indonesian capital on July 9. Although North Korea and Japan have no diplomatic relations, the two countries negotiated the reunion.

Ms. Soga thanks their supporters for making the reunion possible and says the family has many things to do in Japan.

Sergeant Jenkins is reportedly in poor health, but the United States has made it clear it will eventually demand custody of the accused Army deserter under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan.

Sergeant Jenkins, who walked unassisted when he arrived in Jakarta from Pyongyang earlier this month, left for Japan hobbling on a cane and leaning on his wife.

Japanese officials say he will immediately undergo tests and possible surgery in a top Tokyo hospital for an unspecified ailment.

U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker, in a statement Saturday, said Washington would not immediately ask Japan to hand over Sergeant Jenkins, who is 64, out of consideration for his health.

Sergeant Jenkins' nephew, James Hyman, traveled from the United States to greet the uncle he has never met. Mr. Hyman was in the Tokyo studio of Nippon Television when his relatives arrived.

"I want to say 'hi' to my uncle and that we love him and we've always believed in him and just welcome him back to the family," he said.

Ms. Soga was among the Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s who returned to Japan in 2002. She married Sergeant Jenkins in North Korea in 1980.

The plight of the family has captivated the Japanese public, and the family's departure from Jakarta and arrival in Tokyo were televised live Sunday in Japan.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is personally involved in the case, calling it a humanitarian issue.

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