Japan seeks quick end to case of U.S. deserter

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Associated Press

TOKYO -- Tokyo hopes to reach a solution with Washington soon in the case of former U.S. soldier Charles Jenkins, Japan's foreign minister said Sunday, amid reports a plea-bargain was in the works.

Jenkins, who is undergoing tests at a Tokyo hospital, is wanted by the Army for allegedly abandoning his South Korean post in 1965 and defecting to North Korea.

Legally the United States can take custody of Jenkins in Japan, but Washington has refrained from doing so, citing concerns about his health.

"There is no problem which cannot be resolved through dialogue," Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi told NHK public broadcaster. "Through discussion, we aim to find a solution as quickly as possible."

Kawaguchi's comments came amid reports that Japanese officials are pressing Jenkins to enter a plea-bargain as the best way of ensuring he is eventually able to settle in Japan with his Japanese wife and their two North Korean-born daughters.

An expert on U.S. military law will speak with Jenkins, the daily Sankei Shimbun reported Sunday, citing government sources.

"There are all sorts of ideas, but the government hopes to support him by keeping him informed," Kawaguchi said. "Foremost is how Mr. Jenkins wants to deal with the situation."

The family arrived here last week on a Japanese government-chartered flight from Jakarta, Indonesia, where they had held an emotional reunion after nearly two years of separation. His wife was kidnapped by North Korea years ago and was only allowed to return to Japan in 2002, leaving her family behind.

The trip brought Jenkins within reach of a U.S. court martial for the first time in 39 years. Unlike Indonesia, Japan has an extradition treaty with the United States.

Soga has said she wants her family to resettle here, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has asked Washington to give "special consideration" to the case.

But U.S. officials have said they intend to press charges against Jenkins, who could face life in prison if convicted of desertion.

On Friday doctors cleared Jenkins of serious medical problems, dispelling earlier arguments that his prosecution should be delayed because he required urgent medical care.

Meanwhile, Jenkins' nephew, James Hyman, and his wife were returning to the United States Sunday.

At a news conference late Saturday, they claimed they were barred from seeing Jenkins during a weeklong stay in Tokyo because U.S. and Japanese officials feared they would complicate the case by telling Jenkins that evidence backing up the desertion allegations had disappeared.

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