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Ex-GI to Surrender to U.S. Army in Japan

Jenkins, accused of deserting to N. Korea, says he seeks 'closure.' A plea bargain is possible.

September 01, 2004|Bruce Wallace | Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — A piece of unfinished business from the Cold War appeared closer to resolution today with the declaration by accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Robert Jenkins that he will report "very shortly" to an American military base in Japan to face 40-year-old charges of defecting to North Korea.

"I will soon voluntarily face the charges against me by the U.S. Army," Jenkins said in a statement issued through the Japanese government. Jenkins said he would report to the U.S. base at Camp Zama south of Tokyo "to begin the process that will bring closure to my pending legal situation."

Jenkins has been in a Tokyo hospital since mid-July, when he arrived with his Japanese wife and their two daughters. Japanese doctors said he was suffering from stress and fatigue and could not be turned over to U.S. officials in that condition.

There is widespread speculation that his decision to leave the protective embrace of the Japanese government signals that a plea bargain is imminent.

The Army has charged him with four military crimes, including desertion. Jenkins left the four-man patrol he was leading in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas one night in January 1965 and never returned.

His legal situation has been complicated, however, by the reverence the Japanese public holds for Hitomi Soga, Jenkins' Japanese wife, who survived a 24-year ordeal in North Korea after being kidnapped. Soga was freed to return to Japan two years ago, and her attempt to reunite her family in freedom has become a national cause -- one the Japanese government has eagerly assisted.

The charges against Jenkins have been the hitch.

The Pentagon has been reluctant to absolve Jenkins of desertion.

As a result, Jenkins has remained in a Tokyo hospital since his arrival in Japan, where humanitarian concerns were the ostensible reason cited by American officials for suspending his arrest.

While in the hospital, Jenkins has been consulting a military defense lawyer. Leaks from the Japanese government suggest that a plea bargain has been taking shape.

Reports say a deal could have Jenkins accepting a dishonorable discharge in return for providing U.S. officials with details about the North Korean regime as well as information on the status of other U.S. soldiers who allegedly defected to North Korea.

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