U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins, who allegedly defected to North Korea nearly 40 years ago, is promising to face desertion charges against him soon. Jenkins, currently in a Japanese hospital, has released a letter saying he wants to bring the decades-old case to a close.
The U.S. Embassy here confirms that Sergeant Jenkins has written a letter saying he has decided to go to a U.S. Army camp near Tokyo to face desertion and related charges.
Sergeant Jenkins says he will turn himself in at Camp Zama as soon as he is healthy enough.
The 64-year-old American, who disappeared in 1965 while on patrol on the South Korean side of the North-South border and later showed up in North Korea, has been in a Tokyo hospital since July 18.
Air Force Colonel Victor Warzinski, spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan, calls the letter a positive development.
"Sergeant Jenkins faces some fairly serious charges," he said. "And we believe and it's apparent that he believes it's time now to work through this."
Sergeant Jenkins came to Japan via Indonesia with his Japanese wife, who was kidnapped during the Cold War by North Korean agents, and their two daughters.
Since arriving in Japan, he has met with a U.S. military defense lawyer several times to discuss his options. Japanese officials say they expect him to seek a plea bargain for a dishonorable discharge, which would allow him to remain in Japan with his family.
Japan has for months been asking the United States to consider a pardon for Sgt. Jenkins. But Political Science professor Koichi Nakano of Sophia University in Tokyo says the government now appears to realize the timing for that - given the U.S. presidential campaign and ongoing military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan - is not appropriate.
"I think the Japanese government does realize that it is a very difficult issue to handle, especially in an election year in the U.S. and, more or less, in a war situation, also, to ask clemency for somebody who basically deserted in [North] Korea," said Koichi Nakano.
U.S. officials say Sergeant Jenkins will be treated with "dignity and respect" and his age, health and other circumstances will figure in the decision whether or not to incarcerate him after he turns himself in.
While in North Korea, Sergeant Jenkins met Hitomi Soga, who had been kidnapped in Japan by North Korean agents along with her mother. A number of other Japanese were also abducted by North Korea in the 1970's and '80's, although the exact number is in dispute.
Ms. Soga returned to Japan with other Japanese abductees in 2002, leaving behind her husband and their two North Korean-born daughters. Ms. Soga's mother has never been found, and the North Koreans say a number of the abductees died of natural causes.