National

Soga, family to reunite Friday in Jakarta

Hosoda denies timing has anything to do with Upper House election

Hitomi Soga, one of five Japanese repatriated to Japan in October 2002 after being abducted to North Korea, will be reunited with her American husband and their two daughters this week in Jakarta, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Monday.

It will be the first time Soga has seen her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, and their daughters, Mika and Belinda, since she returned to Japan with four other abductees 21 months ago. The meeting is scheduled for Friday.

Soga will take a commercial flight to Jakarta on Thursday. The Japanese government is planning to charter a plane to pick up Jenkins and the daughters in Pyongyang on Friday, Hosoda said. Cabinet Secretariat adviser Kyoko Nakayama will accompany Soga.

The family will stay at a hotel in Jakarta. A senior Foreign Ministry official said they will be staying for “an indefinite period of time.”

National Police Agency officials departed for Jakarta on Monday to make preparations.

“I am very delighted that the (date) of the reunion was set, because we have been making efforts to make this happen as soon as possible,” Hosoda told a news conference. “We are sorry that we could not grant her request” at an earlier date.

Several North Korean officials will accompany the Jenkins trio to Jakarta, Hosoda said.

Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama, who visited Soga in Sado Island earlier in the day, said she had expressed appreciation for the government’s effort and said she was relieved to know she will soon see her family.

“I want to tell my family what it is like in Japan and on Sado,” Hirayama quoted Soga as saying. “I will bring pictures and other materials with me.”

She said she was concerned that her husband, listed as an army deserter by Washington, could be handed over to the U.S. if he comes to Japan. She asked the government to do its best to resolve the issue with Washington, Hirayama said.

The reunion, scheduled to occur just before Sunday’s House of Councilors election, could give a boost to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, which is reportedly in danger of ceding some seats to the Democratic Party of Japan in the poll.

Last week, Hosoda said it was unlikely that the reunion would be held before the election. It is widely speculated that the LDP-led government pushed for the event to be held in time for the Upper House election.

But Hosoda claimed Soga’s case has nothing to do with politics or the looming election. It is a humanitarian issue, he said.

The two governments had been trying to set a date and location for the reunion since Koizumi’s second visit to Pyongyang in May.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and her North Korean counterpart agreed Thursday the reunion would take place in Indonesia.

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