US soldier who deserted in 1965 agrees to leave North Korea

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The Independent Online

A US Army deserter living in North Korea has agreed to travel to Indonesia to be reunited with his Japanese wife, who was among the abductees released by the Communist nation nearly two years ago, Japan's Foreign Minister said yesterday.

A US Army deserter living in North Korea has agreed to travel to Indonesia to be reunited with his Japanese wife, who was among the abductees released by the Communist nation nearly two years ago, Japan's Foreign Minister said yesterday.

Hitomi Soga, 45, has been living apart from her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, 64, and their two daughters since she was allowed to return to Japan in 2002, 24 years after North Korean agents abducted her to teach the Japanese language and culture to spies. Tokyo had hoped the family would join her in Japan. But Jenkins, who deserted his unit in 1965 and defected to North Korea, and the daughters refused to come, out of fear that he might be extradited to the US to face desertion charges. Indonesia has no extradition treaty with the US.

Japan's Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said she received the message in a meeting with her North Korean counterpart in Jakarta, on the sidelines of a regional conference.

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, yesterday said Washington would not object if Indonesia hosted the reunion. He added, however, that desertion charges against Mr Jenkins "remained outstanding." In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said that Mr Jenkins' travel "to any country" would not change the US position that he is a wanted man "charged with serious offences under the Uniform Code of Military Justice".

Washington has rebuffed Tokyo's requests that it refrain from prosecuting Jenkins.

No date for the reunion was given but Ms Kawaguchi said she hoped it would be in time for the 23 July birthday of one of the couple's North Korean-born daughters. Mrs Soga said: "I'm very happy to hear the results of the Japan-North Korea talks."

The North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il said in May it was "up to Jenkins"if he wanted to leave the country.

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