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US Deserter Sentenced


U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Jenkins has pleaded guilty to desertion and aiding the enemy 40 years after slipping into North Korea and being held there until this year.

Jenkins will serve 30 days in jail then be dishonorably discharged from the military. Steve Herman in Tokyo reports on the Jenkins' court martial in Japan. At Wednesday's hearing at Camp Zama, south of Tokyo, U.S. Sgt. Charles Jenkins tearfully explained he deserted his post near North Korea in 1965 to avoid hazardous duty on the Korean Peninsula and the war in Vietnam.

The 64-year-old sergeant, dressed in full uniform and looking nervous, also admitted to the charge of aiding the enemy by teaching English in North Korea. However, he pled not guilty to the charges of encouraging disloyalty and soliciting other personnel to desert, which were then dismissed.

Jenkins described how he carefully stepped through a minefield to defect to the communist North in the hopes they would turn him over to the Russians who would send him home. Instead, he said, he endured decades of fear in North Korea and was beaten severely when he wanted to stop teaching English to military cadets being trained as spies.

His Japanese wife Hitomi Soga, who had been kidnapped by North Korean spies, and their two North Korean-born daughters watched somberly with downcast looks inside the courtroom. The case is considered the most serious one involving desertion since the end of the Second World War. But Army Spokesman Col. John Amberg says the United States did not bow to pressure from Japan to give the Jenkins case special treatment.

"It went by the book," he said. "And it showed the U.S. military justice system is able to support and provide for even the most unique circumstance that may present themselves to the military."

The maximum penalty for desertion during wartime is execution. But prosecutors asked for a nine-month jail term. The judge, under a pre-trial agreement, sentenced Jenkins to 30 days in jail, but recommended that it be suspended. Jenkins will also be reduced to the lowest military rank of private and dishonorably discharged.

His plight generated much sympathy here because, while in Pyongyang, he married Ms. Soga who had been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s. Two years ago, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went to Pyongyang and negotiated the return of Ms. Soga and other Japanese abductees. She left without her family, because Jenkins feared he would be turned over to the U.S. military.

After a flurry of diplomatic and legal negotiations, Jenkins and his daughters were reunited with Ms. Soga in July. Since returning to Japan, Jenkins voluntarily surrendered at Camp Zama, where he has been on fulltime duty with an administrative support unit. The family is expected to settle on Sado Island.

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