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Alleged US Army Deserter Reports For Duty at Japan Base After 40 Years  - 2004-09-11

An alleged U.S. Army deserter, who spent almost 40 years in communist North Korea, voluntarily surrendered on Saturday at an American base in Japan. With a long snappy salute, alleged deserter Sgt. Charles Jenkins entered this U.S. Army camp, telling an officer, Lt. Col. Paul Nigara that he was reporting for duty.

Sgt. Jenkins, accompanied by his family, arrived at Camp Zama military base two hours after he was discharged from a Tokyo hospital, where he had been a patient since July.

The 64-year-old quickly traded his suit and tie for an Army uniform and signed documents, with his military defense counsel looking on, which changed his status from deserter back to active duty.

Army Colonel John Dykstra says, until a court martial convenes, Sgt. Jenkins will be treated just like any other soldier on active duty except he cannot go off base without permission.

"He is not under arrest at this time," said Colonel Dykstra. "He is under charges; he has been under charges since 1965. He will be permitted to move about freely on Camp Zama with his escort or sponsor."

Sgt. Jenkins faces charges of desertion, abetting desertion, acts that served the interests of the enemy and encouraging disloyalty from his days serving along the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas.

The Army says he has been assigned temporary quarters typical for a sergeant where he will live with his Japanese wife, Hitomi Soga, and their two daughters, who were born and raised in North Korea.

The plight of the family has been intensely followed by Japanese. Ms. Soga gained national sympathy for her poise and eloquent comments, after she was allowed to return to Japan without the rest of her family in 2002.

Ms. Soga and her mother were among the Japanese kidnapped during the Cold War by North Korean agents. Ms. Soga married Sgt. Jenkins, who was her English teacher, in North Korea in 1980.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi negotiated her release along with other Japanese abductees. But Sgt. Jenkins only agreed to leave North Korea to join his wife after Mr. Koizumi met with him in Pyongyang and reportedly assured him he would not be arrested by U.S. military authorities.

Sgt. Jenkin's case has been the subject of substantial diplomatic discussion between Japan and the United States.

The chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army in Japan, Major John Amberg, was asked on Saturday if Sgt. Jenkins was given special treatment because of pressure from the Japanese government.

"Each and every time a deserter returns to Army jurisdiction, whether that is they're apprehended or voluntarily turn themselves in, the case is dealt with individually looking at all of the aspects and all of the factors," he said. "So it is safe to say no two cases are treated exactly the same."

While he remains on active duty, Sgt. Jenkins will receive a paycheck and allowances totaling about $3,300 a month.

Japanese media report Sgt. Jenkins is expected to plead guilty to the desertion charge as part of a plea bargain. He was quoted in the only interview he has given since coming to Japan as saying he is eager to "clear his conscience."

Japanese commentators say they expect that following legal proceedings, which could last one to three months, the family will move to Ms. Soga's quiet hometown on Sado Island.