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Reunion after ex-GI leaves N.Korea

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Former U.S. soldier Jenkins who allegedly defected to North Korea in 1965.
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JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- A former U.S. soldier who Washington says deserted to North Korea in 1965 has been reunited with the Japanese woman he met and married after she was abducted to the reclusive Stalinist state.

Hitomi Soga, 45, hugged and kissed her husband Charles Robert Jenkins, 64, as he came down the stairs of a chartered plane with their two North Korean-born daughters at Jakarta's airport.

Daughters Mika, 21, and Belinda, 18, appeared to be fighting back tears.

A few minutes later, as they posed briefly for pictures, Jenkins smiled and nodded. The family then boarded a bus without talking to reporters, and left in a small convoy led by a police car for a five-star hotel in Jakarta, where Soga arrived on Thursday from Japan.

It was the first time in nearly four decades Jenkins has left the reclusive North Korea.

The reunion is a tale of complex international twists and tricky diplomacy that was almost never allowed.

North Korean agents kidnapped Soga in 1978 while she was shopping in Japan. She was one of at least 15 Japanese citizens taken hostage to help train North Korean spies.

Fourteen years ago while still being held in North Korea, Soga met and then married Jenkins, an American soldier who disappeared from his U.S. Army patrol near the De-Militarized Zone that separates the two Koreas in 1965.

In 2002, she, along with several other abductees, was allowed to return to her homeland as part of a program to improve bilateral relations between Japan and North Korea.

The U.S. Army says Jenkins, who appeared in propaganda films, was a deserter but his relatives maintain he was abducted and brainwashed and have demanded a pardon from any possible military charges.

Afraid that he would be arrested and extradited back to the United States, Jenkins did not join his wife when she left for Japan in October 2002.

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

Shortly after Soga left for Japan, Jenkins was admitted into hospital suffering extreme fatigue.

But on Friday, television footage showed him in apparent good health and smoking a cigarette before boarding the plane.

Soga's plight has captured the hearts of Japanese. The 45-year-old has called for Jenkins and their daughters, 18-year-old Belinda and Mika, 21, to join her in Japan.

"I wish with all my heart to live in Japan with all my family together," Soga has said.

Jenkins has thus far refused, fearful of being handed over to the United States to face a military court martial.

In a recent interview, 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."

However, last week a solution was reached between foreign ministers in Japan and North Korea. They agreed the family would be allowed to reunite in Indonesia. Jakarta has no extradition treaty with Washington.

Despite Friday's reunion it remains unclear how long the family can stay together.

"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 has said she will try and persuade her husband to join her in Japan, but he is reportedly still afraid of facing any legal action from the United States.

Analysts told Reuters the family reunion could give Japan's ruling party a boost in an election for parliament's upper house on Sunday.

It has also invited criticism that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has manipulated the event for political purposes.

For Indonesia, analysts say, the reunion offers a chance to be at the center of a humanitarian gesture and cultivate relations with Japan, an important aid and trade partner.

CNN Tokyo Bureau Chief Atika Shubert and Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa contributed to this report.

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