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US, Japan Negotiating Fate of Accused US Army Deserter - 2004-07-16

Japanese and U.S. government officials in Tokyo indicated Friday that they expect to reach a compromise over the fate of Charles Robert Jenkins, who is accused of deserting his U.S. military unit and defecting to North Korea in 1965.

Japan on Friday officially confirmed that Sergeant Jenkins, considered a military deserter by the United States, would be flown with his family from Jakarta to Tokyo on Sunday.

Getting him here has become a top priority for the Japanese government, but brings Sergeant Jenkins under the authority of the U.S. military, which may prosecute him.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says discussions continue between Tokyo and Washington concerning Sergeant Jenkins' fate.

Mr. Koizumi says he will try to work out an acceptable solution with the United States on the basis of bilateral relations and mutual trust.

U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker on Friday met with top officials from Japan's governing coalition and suggested a compromise. Japanese media quote the ambassador as saying Washington would not immediately demand his handover because of Sergeant Jenkins' health.

Sergeant Jenkins, who is 64, will undergo an abdominal operation in Japan for complications stemming from previous surgery in North Korea.

The native of the U.S. state of North Carolina is accused of abandoning his Army unit on the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in 1965 and defecting to the North.

There, he met Hitomi Soga, who had been kidnapped in 1978 from her Japanese hometown by North Korean agents. The two married in North Korea and have two daughters.

Ms. Soga, since her return to Japan without her husband and daughters nearly two years ago, has pressured her government to arrange for the family to live in her native country. Her plight has gained widespread sympathy in Japan.

Another complication for the family was apparently resolved Friday. In Jakarta, North Korean officials were allowed to meet with Sergeant Jenkins, whom they consider a citizen of the communist state.

North Korean foreign ministry official Kang Dong Gon, after the meeting, says his government will respect Sergeant Jenkins' decision to move to Japan, and hopes he gets well soon.