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US Army Deserter in N. Korea Could Face Arrest in Japan - 2002-12-02

Charles Robert Jenkins, a former American soldier who allegedly defected to North Korea, is likely to face arrest if he goes to Japan, says the U.S. ambassador in Tokyo.

Ambassador Howard Baker says U.S. President George W. Bush alone can pardon alleged army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins if he returns to the United States and is found guilty of desertion. "The pardon authority rests solely and exclusively with the president, and he may exercise that authority on whatever basis he decides." he said. "Is a pardon likely? I have no idea."

The U.S. army lists Mr. Jenkins as having defected to North Korea in 1965. At the time he was serving near the Demilitarized Zone, which divides North and South Korea. He later married Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman kidnapped by North Korea who is now visiting Japan with four other abductees.

Tokyo is pressing North Korea to allow Mr. Jenkins and the children of the abductees to come to Japan. Pyongyang is demanding that the abductees return to the North.

Tokyo has also asked Washington for leniency in Mr. Jenkins' case, but the United States has yet to make a decision. If Mr. Jenkins goes to Japan, the United States could ask Japan to arrest him and hand him over to U.S. military custody.

Japan's Foreign Ministry says Mr. Jenkins, now 62, was recently hospitalized in North Korea. His wife says she longs to see him and their two children.

Mr. Baker, who addressed journalists in Tokyo Monday, said he is sympathetic about Mr. Jenkins' situation. He also said he is willing to meet with Ms. Soga and report to Washington what she has to say. But Mr. Baker said that if Mr. Jenkins ever comes to the United States, he is likely to face prosecution. "The Jenkins case is a difficult issue. I personally feel sorry for him. He has been in North Korea for a long time. I am sure he wishes to be rejoined with his family. But on the other hand, he is still characterized as a deserter from the U.S. Army," he said.

While some U.S. officials are said to support granting Mr. Jenkins amnesty, others are reportedly opposed because he may have collaborated with the Stalinist North Korean government. President Bush has branded the North as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran because they are developing of weapons of mass destruction.

The North has also admitted to a U.S. envoy that it has a nuclear weapons development program, in violation of several international treaties.