Accused Deserter Leaves N. Korea

File photo of Charles Robert Jenkins AP

An alleged U.S. Army deserter who fled to North Korea 40 years ago said he wants his reunited family to remain together but he has yet to say where they would live, a Japanese official said Sunday.

Meanwhile, the family of North Carolina native Charles Robert Jenkins has reportedly asked President Bush to pardon the former sergeant, who is still wanted on desertion charges.

Jenkins and his two daughters had an emotional reunion with his Japanese wife, Hitomi Soga, at Jakarta's international airport on Friday before going to a five-star hotel in central Jakarta. The family had been apart since Soga returned to Japan in 2002 — 24 years after being abducted by North Korean agents.

The reunion was held in Indonesia because it does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

The family has stayed in a 14th-floor suite since Friday, Japanese officials said. Its future has yet to be addressed.

"It's too early for the Japanese goavernment to bring up that discussion," Japanese government spokesman Kyoko Nakayama told a press conference.

"He told us, 'The four of us want to stay together always.'"

On their first foray out into the capital, the family — dressed casually and appearing relaxed — was driven by minibus Sunday night to the home of Japanese ambassador Yutaka Iimura. They toured the grounds and had a dinner of smoked salmon, steak and spaghetti topped off with a desert of green tea ice cream.

The family did not talk with reporters. But with demand for news about the family intense, the Japanese government released a copy of the dinner menu and held a press briefing to say the Jenkins and Iimura talked about their love of smoking, the weather and the fact Jenkins had never seen a mango before.

Jenkins was not wearing a pin bearing the image of Kim Il Sung, the late founder of North Korea, as he did upon his arrival in Jakarta. His daughters, however, were wearing the pin on their blouses.

A large delegation of Japanese officials — and a few North Koreans — were supervising the reunion.

Indonesia has said the family can stay here as long as it wants. Soga reportedly wants to persuade her husband to return to Japan.

In North Carolina, lawyer James B. Craven III mailed a petition Friday to the Justice Department on behalf of Jenkins' family in North Carolina, the Raleigh News and Observer reported.

Jenkins, 64, is still wanted on U.S. desertion charges. He was serving in an Army unit based on the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea when he disappeared during a routine patrol in 1965.

Craven said former presidents granted executive clemency to Vietnam War resisters, soldiers who were absent without leave and those who, like Jenkins, were accused of desertion but never tried.

Jenkins' family in North Carolina has had no contact with him since 1965. His mother, now 91, is in poor health.

"I just thought it was time to do this," Craven told the newspaper.

The family drama has entranced Japan, leading to accusations the reunion was engineered by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to offset his sagging popularity before Sunday's parliamentary elections. The government denies that.

The Japanese government is footing the bill for the visit, including chartering a special plane to fly Jenkins and his daughters from Pyongyang to Jakarta.

While in North Korea, Jenkins is known to have taught English and played an American villain in government propaganda movies. It appears he led a relatively privileged life in the poverty-stricken and reclusive communist country.

Soga was abducted by North Korean spies in 1978. The two met when she was a student in Jenkins' English class and they married in 1980. She had not seen her husband and daughters since 2002, when North Korea allowed her to return home along with four other Japanese kidnap victims.

Jenkins did not accompany Soga, fearful that he could be extradited to the United States and tried for desertion. Their teenage daughters decided to stay with their father.

In Jakarta last week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said charges against Jenkins "remain outstanding." With more than 140,000 troops in Iraq, pardoning Jenkins risks angering veterans in the run-up to the November presidential election.
  • Ellen Crean

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