Soga understands that Japan wants her to stay


Hitomi Soga, one of the five Japanese abductees to North Korea who are visiting their homeland, said here Friday she understands the Japanese government’s plan to keep her here and will closely follow developments in talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang, according to a Cabinet Secretariat official.

After meeting with Soga, 43, at her home in Mano, Niigata Prefecture, Hideki Nitta told a news conference that Soga is concerned about her family, who remain in North Korea.

Upon hearing that Tokyo will demand that her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, and two daughters be brought to Japan, Soga said she will leave it to the government to do whatever it can, Nitta said.

Soga has said that she would like to consult with her husband before deciding whether to relocate to Japan.

Nitta met with Soga on Friday to discuss whether she would like to permanently return to Japan and to explain the government’s policy about her permanent return.

The government announced a plan on Thursday to keep the returnees in Japan.

The abductees, who arrived in Japan on Oct. 15, were originally scheduled to return to North Korea on Sunday or Monday. Most of them have said they wish to return to Pyongyang to be reunited with their children.

“I think my sister has mixed feelings about this because she intended to return to North Korea,” said Tomiko Kaneko, Soga’s sister.

Referring to the Japanese government’s move to hold the abductees in Japan, she said she felt “half happy and half worried.”

The government’s announcement came in response to strong support from the public and the abductees’ families to make their return permanent.

Meanwhile, Kyoko Nakayama, a special Cabinet Secretariat adviser on the Japanese abductions, has pledged to the abductees’ hometowns that the central government will provide financial assistance to the five now that it has decided to hold them in Japan.

“The government will fully cooperate in response to the extension of the abductees’ stay,” Nakayama said in letters sent to the abductees’ hometowns, according to a government official.

The city of Obama, Fukui Prefecture — the hometown of Yasushi Chimura and his wife, Fukie — said it would employ Chimura as a temporary city employee.

On Monday, Obama Mayor Toshio Murakami will visit Tokyo to press Nakayama and the government to assist his municipality in making the Chimura’s return permanent.

Jenkins conundrum

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. government officials gave differing views Thursday on whether the American-born husband of Hitomi Soga, one of the five Japanese abductees now on a homecoming from North Korea, could be spared prosecution for defecting to the North in 1965.

Charles Robert Jenkins deserted from the U.S. Army while serving near the demilitarized zone between South and North Korea.

He married Soga after she was kidnapped to North Korea in 1978. They have two daughters, aged 17 and 19.

Japan has officially asked the United States to pardon the 62-year-old former sergeant so the couple can possibly settle permanently in Japan.

A U.S. Defense Department official said Jenkins would likely be detained as a deserter in accordance with U.S. military rules, and that it would be difficult to spare him from prosecution.

A State Department official, meanwhile, said there are past examples in which prosecution has been dropped in similar cases due to political considerations, hinting that it is possible the U.S. may take into account the Japanese request for a pardon.

Observers say it may be possible for the U.S. not to prosecute Jenkins on condition that he provide information about other U.S. servicemen who defected to North Korea in the 1960s.

Either way, both officials said Jenkins will at least have to be questioned by U.S. authorities.

Jenkins himself expressed concern to a Japanese government fact-finding mission in Pyongyang late last month about going to Japan as he might be arrested by U.S. authorities for desertion, according to the Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe asked Richard Christianson, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy, that the U.S. refrain from prosecuting Jenkins.

Christianson told Abe that he would convey the request to Washington, the officials said.