U.S. Defector to North Korea Reunited with Wife


2004.07.10
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A former U.S. soldier who is alleged to have defected to North Korea 40 years ago, has arrived with his two daughters to meet his Japanese wife in Indonesia, in a tearful reunion following behind-the-scenes diplomatic negotiations involving three countries, RFA reports.

Charles Robert Jenkins, 64, landed at Jakarta's Sukarno-Hatta International Airport on a plane that Japan sent to North Korea to pick him up. Indonesia was chosen as a venue for the reunion because it has no extradition treaty with the United States, and Roberts was considered safe from U.S. prosecution.

His wife, Hitomi Soga, hasn't seen her family since 2002, when she returned to Japan after being abducted by North Korean spies in 1978. Soga buried her face in Jenkins' shoulder and embraced him. Soga then turned to her two teenage daughters and hugged them as Jenkins looked on with tear-filled eyes.

The family was taken to a hotel in the Indonesian capital Jakarta under police escort, before being presented with flowers by local children and waving at some 200 reporters waiting outside for them.

A North Korean foreign ministry official was quoted by Japanese media as saying that Jenkins' trip would be good for relations with Japan, which was the driving force-and the source of funding-behind the reunion.

Deputy Foreign Minister Song Il-Ho was quoted by Japan Broadcasting Corp as saying at Pyongyang airport that the reunion would be "useful for Japanese-North Korean relations."

Attempts to set up formal diplomatic ties between Pyongyang and Tokyo have foundered on disagreements over the fate of other Japanese abductees like Soga, and on Tokyo's demands that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Japan's Asahi TV showed live footage of the family's departure from Pyongyang airport, with North Korean and Japanese officials sitting formally opposite each other in a departure lounge. Song was among those there to see Jenkins and his daughters off.

During the meeting, Song asked his Japanese counterpart Akitaka Saiki whether he would stay in Jakarta during the Jenkins' stay there, to which Saiki replied that he would stay there until the family settled in.

At one stage in the footage, laughter broke through an an otherwise constrained atmosphere when Saiki used the word "fever" in describing the excitement in Jakarta over Soga's arrival, Asahi TV reported.

Jenkins was serving in a U.S-army unit based on the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas when he disappeared during a routine patrol in 1965. It is unclear whether Jenkins has spent any time outside North Korea since then.

He met and married Soga in 1980 in Pyongyang. Soga spent nearly a quarter-century in North Korea, before leader Kim Jong Il agreed with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi two years ago to allow her and four other kidnap victims to return home.

The U.S. government still considers Jenkins to be a military deserter.

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