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Accused US Army Deserter, Wife to Reunite in Indonesia - 2004-07-09


A former U.S. Army sergeant who is accused of defecting to North Korea almost 40 years ago has arrived in Indonesia with his daughters for a reunion with his Japanese wife. Charles Jenkins still fears extradition to the United States.

In 1965, while on patrol in the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, Staff Sergeant Charles Jenkins disappeared, only to reappear in the hands of the North Koreans a week later. The U.S. Army accuses him of being a deserter, and says he will face a court martial if he is ever brought back to the United States. His family in North Carolina says he lost his way and was captured by the North Koreans.

Now, almost 40 years later, he has returned to the free world, to be reunited with his Japanese wife in Indonesia. A man who left the United States when Lyndon Johnson was president and missed the rise of the Beatles, experienced a taste of modernity on Friday, a two-hour traffic jam coming from the airport and a media storm when he arrived at his Jakarta hotel.

Mr. Jenkins said little as he was escorted to his hotel suite by Japanese diplomats, only mouthing the words "very happy" when asked how he felt to be out of North Korea.

At his side was his wife, Hitomi Soga, who was abducted by North Korean agents while on a shopping trip in Japan in 1978. Their two daughters, who are 21 and 18, accompanied their father to Jakarta.

Under pressure from Tokyo, North Korea allowed Ms. Soga to return to Japan two years ago, along with four other Japanese abductees. On a recent trip to North Korea, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tried to persuade Mr. Jenkins to go to Japan, but he refused, afraid the authorities would extradite him to the United States. So Mr. Jenkins, his daughters and his wife reunited in Jakarta. Indonesia does not have an extradition agreement with the United States.

It is not clear what the future holds for Mr. Jenkins. His wife would like her family to join her in Japan, but that might prove too risky for the former sergeant. He could return to North Korea, where he reportedly taught English and appeared in movies playing evil Western plutocrats.