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Alleged deserter arrives in Japan


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Former U.S. soldier Jenkins who allegedly defected to North Korea in 1965.
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(CNN) -- Alleged U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins has arrived in Japan, where he risks being turned over to American custody.

Jenkins, 64, is alleged to have defected to North Korea 39 years ago while serving as a sergeant with the U.S. Army on the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Jenkins, who has serious health problems, is seeking medical treatment in Japan, although this will put him within reach of U.S. military authorities.

He left Jakarta Sunday morning with his Japanese wife Hitomi Soga and their two North Korean-born children aboard a government-chartered Japan Airlines aircraft.

They arrived at Tokyo's airport at about 5.45 p.m. Sunday local time (8.45 a.m. GMT).

Jenkins is to be taken to a Tokyo hospital for treatment of a reported stomach ailment.

Soga, 45, and daughters Mika, 21, and Belinda, 18, will stay in a government-prepared room in the same hospital, the Japanese government said.

Jenkins and his wife were reunited in Indonesia last week for the first time in almost two years.

The U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, indicated Saturday that Washington would not seek immediate custody of Jenkins and would allow doctors to treat him first.

Baker said the U.S. government was sympathetic to Jenkins' condition and may delay any action, the Associated Press reported.

Baker's remarks were made after he met Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Saturday.

"Foreign Minister Kawaguchi told me that Sgt. Jenkins' medical condition is serious and asked that the United States consider the humanitarian aspects of this case," Baker said in a statement faxed by the U.S. Embassy.

"I acknowledged to Foreign Minister Kawaguchi that the U.S. government is sympathetic to his health condition and that Sgt. Jenkins' medical condition may delay our request for his transfer to U.S. custody."

According to the Associated Press, Baker said U.S. Embassy officials had no plans to meet Jenkins "in the immediate future."

Jenkins, who disappeared while on patrol near the Demilitarized Zone in 1965, left North Korea last week with his daughters and went to Indonesia -- a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States -- to be reunited with Soga after a separation of almost two years.

Soga was kidnapped by North Korean spies in 1978 and taken from Japan to the communist state. She was one of at least 15 Japanese citizens grabbed to help train North Korean spies.

Fourteen years ago, she met and married Jenkins in North Korea.

After his 1965 disappearance, Jenkins appeared in propaganda films and lived in North Korea for nearly four decades.

In 2002, Soga returned to her homeland as part of a program to improve bilateral relations between Japan and North Korea.

But Jenkins, afraid he would be arrested and extradited to the United States, chose to stay behind with their children.

Debated fate

story.jenkins.family.afp.jpg
Jenkins with Soga and daughters Belinda, left, and Mika during their stay in Jakarta.

During that time, he and his two daughters, Mika and Belinda, waited for Soga's return while Japan, North Korea and the United States debated their fate.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that while the Japanese were treating the situation as a humanitarian issue, "Sgt. Jenkins is, of course, a deserter from the U.S. Army and those charges are still outstanding."

Last week the foreign ministers of Japan and North Korea agreed to allow the family to reunite in Indonesia.

"They are allowed to stay one month. Of course, we will be flexible if they need more time to stay longer in Indonesia," Hassan Wirayuda, Indonesian foreign minister, said of the plan.

Soga and Jenkins met Indonesia President Megawati Sukarnoputri during their stay in the country.

Just before the family's departure from Jakarta for Japan on Sunday, Soga released a letter of thanks and appreciation to the Indonesian people and their government.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington Thursday the United States viewed Jenkins as a deserter charged with "extremely serious offenses."

"We understand Japan plans to bring him there for medical treatment. Once he is there, he falls under Japanese-U.S. status policy. We intend to request custody when we have legal opportunity to do so," Boucher said.

Some officials hope Jenkins could provide the United States with valuable information on the reclusive communist nation, which Washington accuses of having a nuclear weapons program.


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