Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Army Deserter Jenkins Obtains Early Release from Detention in Japan

A former U.S. Army sergeant who defected to North Korea almost 40 years ago - has been released after serving 25 days in military detention in Japan. The ordeal for Charles Robert Jenkins is not quite over, however.

The plight of the 64-year-old American, married to a Japanese woman who was abducted by North Korean agents, has been closely followed here.

Earlier this year, Charles Jenkins, who defected to and spent 39 years in North Korea, was allowed to go to Japan after much diplomacy by Tokyo. The former U.S. Army sergeant then turned himself into U.S. military officials here. He pleaded guilty to desertion at his court martial, was demoted to the rank of private, ordered dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 30 days detention at an American military jail at the Yokosuka Naval Base.

Saturday, U.S. Army Major Martha Brooks said Jenkins was released six days early for good behavior.

"He arrived at Camp Zama by Black Hawk helicopter with the company commander and the first sergeant," said Major Brooks. "Right now he is going on administrative leave until the weekend is over and right now he is just spending time with his family."

Major Brooks says despite his release from detention, Jenkins remains an active-duty soldier - at least for a little while longer.

"Monday he starts his outprocessing as any soldier would do," she said. "The outprocessing normally, for a soldier, would take anywhere from a week to a month, so therefore we're not going to speculate on how long it will take but then he will be discharged from the military."

Jenkins testified at his trial that he had appeared in North Korean propaganda films and taught English to military cadets there while living with other American defectors under spartan conditions. In North Korea in 1980, he met Hitomi Soga, who had been kidnapped in Japan by North Korean agents. They married and have two daughters.

Their story has been in the headlines for two years since Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went to Pyongyang in 2002. During that trip, North Korea finally admitted it had kidnapped Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 80s and agreed to let Ms. Soga and several others return to Japan.

Jenkins, fearing tough prosecution by the U.S. Army if he returned to Japan, stayed behind with his two daughters. It took Ms. Soga two years of lobbying and intensive diplomatic international negotiations to make a deal for Jenkins.

The family was reunited in July. Jenkins surrendered himself in September. The family intends to settle on remote Sado Island in Japan, which is Ms. Soga's hometown.