SADO, Niigata Pref. — Repatriated Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga said here Friday that she is rejoicing over the government-arranged reunion in Indonesia with her family now living in North Korea.
But the prospects that the planned reunion in Indonesia will pave the way for Soga to live with her family in Japan are unclear, because the U.S. regards her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, as a U.S. Army deserter.
“I am very delighted. Thank you very much,” Soga told reporters at a municipal office in Sado, Niigata Prefecture, where she met with Mayor Koichiro Takano to discuss ways in which the local government could help her family after the reunion.
Soga’s comments came a day after Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun agreed in Jakarta to arrange a reunion in Indonesia.
If realized, the meeting will be the first time Soga has seen Jenkins and their daughters, Mika and Belinda, since October 2002, when she had to leave her family behind when she was allowed to return to Japan after 24 years of captivity in North Korea.
“She looked entirely different. She was all smiles as we talked,” Toshiaki Wakabayashi, a Sado official in charge of assisting Soga, told reporters after meeting privately with her earlier in the morning.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said in Tokyo that Soga’s family reunion is not likely to take place next week, because the government needs to make extensive preparations, including chartering a plane to pick up her husband and their daughters in Pyongyang, reserving their accommodations and hiring security for the family.
“We will do our utmost for them to be reunited as soon as possible,” Hosoda told a news conference.
He said the government will ask Indonesia to provide the necessary security. But he added that Japan may also hire a private security company there for the reunion.
But the question of whether Jenkins and his daughters will be able to live in Japan with Soga in the future without the fear of him being extradited to the U.S. for court-martial is still up in the air.
Jiro Okuyama, assistant press secretary at the Foreign Ministry, said the government is trying to find a way for Soga and her family to “live happily in Japan.”
Okuyama said the government is holding discussions with the U.S. but refused to say how the negotiations are going.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated Thursday that the United States does not oppose the Soga-Jenkins reunion in Indonesia.
“We understand and accept” the planned reunion as a “humanitarian issue,” Powell told a joint news conference in Jakarta after a meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers and their 10 dialogue partners.
Clarifying Powell’s comments, a senior U.S. State Department official later told reporters, “We have no objection” to the reunion. “It is a matter between Japan and Indonesia.” But in his statement, Powell reiterated that charges against Jenkins “remain outstanding.”
A senior U.S. government official in Washington said there is no change in the U.S. decision to take Jenkins into custody whenever the opportunity presented itself.
“Our position remains the same,” the official said. “If there is a legal opportunity to obtain custody of Sgt. Jenkins, we will attempt to do so.”
Jenkins is wanted on four counts of violating the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, and the U.S. would legally be able to take him into custody if he were found in a country with which the U.S. has an extradition treaty or status of forces agreement, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Indonesia has no such treaty or agreement with the U.S.
The U.S. military charges that Jenkins deserted the U.S. Army in 1965, while serving as a sergeant in South Korea near the demilitarized zone.
Jenkins and Soga married in 1980. Soga is one of the five Japanese abducted to North Korea in 1978 who were allowed to return home in 2002.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.