JULY 23 DEADLINE EYED

Japan shops Jenkins-Soga reunion to Bali

Japan has sounded out North Korea on arranging a reunion in Indonesia between repatriated abductee Hitomi Soga and her husband and children, who live in North Korea, government sources said Thursday.

With the Indonesian resort island of Bali in mind, Tokyo hopes to arrange the reunion of Soga, her American husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, and their two North Korea-born daughters by July 23, the birth date of the younger daughter, Belinda.

A Foreign Ministry official said Thursday it would be “good” if the family could be reunited on Bali.

Earlier this month, Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz said the country was ready to host the reunion if Japan so requests and the reunion meets international diplomatic mechanisms.

An Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed Thursday that the two governments have held informal talks on the matter, though he added that the Japanese side has yet to formally request that Indonesia host the reunion.

The government sources said full negotiations over the plan will not take place until after the July 5 presidential election in Indonesia.

Moreover, Tokyo has not yet received any word from North Korea on whether Jenkins is prepared to go to Bali for the reunion, the sources said.

The government has stepped up its efforts to find a venue for the reunion since Soga refused to go to Beijing.

Beijing was initially regarded as a likely venue for the reunion after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il discussed this possibility during a meeting in Pyongyang on May 22.

But Soga has refused to travel to Beijing for the reunion, citing its proximity to North Korea. Some members of the Liberal Democratic Party have also argued that Beijing is too close to Pyongyang.

In a briefing to reporters on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said China is no longer a candidate country for the reunion, saying the Japanese government is considering realizing the reunion “in a third country that is not China.”

Kim told Koizumi that North Korea was ready to let Jenkins and his daughters leave the country.

Jenkins, whom the U.S. government has listed as an army deserter, refused to go to Japan when Koizumi met with him the same day in Pyongyang, fearing he might be extradited to the United States and court-martialed.

Japan has since been trying to set a reunion venue in a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S. Indonesia is one such country.

North Korea abducted Soga in 1978. She returned to Japan in 2002, leaving her family behind.