JAKARTA – Repatriated abductee Hitomi Soga was reunited Friday in Jakarta with her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, and the couple’s two daughters, for the first time since 2002.
Jenkins, 64, and the couple’s North Korean-born daughters, Mika, 21, and Belinda, 18, arrived at Jakarta airport Friday evening on a Japanese government-chartered plane.
The All Nippon Airways Boeing 767 left Japan for Pyongyang in the morning to pick up the three.
The family was reunited as soon as the passengers stepped off the ramp.
Soga and Jenkins hugged and kissed, and the first words she uttered were apologies, in Japanese to her husband and in Korean to Mika, said Japanese officials who were present. Belinda said, “Mother,” in Korean.
The family took a bus to the airport terminal building, where Soga and Jenkins spoke to reporters.
The family later went to a luxury hotel in Jakarta where they will be staying for the time being.
The reunion was arranged to take place in Indonesia because Jenkins, who is listed as a U.S. Army deserter, has refused to go to Japan for fear he could be extradited for court-martial under an extradition treaty between Japan and the United States.
Indonesia has no extradition treaty with the U.S.
Sources close to Japan-North Korea relations said Friday in Tokyo that Pyongyang has told Japan that Jenkins and the two daughters do not need to be sent back to North Korea.
The North Korean government has apparently responded to the wishes of Japan and Soga that the family live together in Japan, the sources said.
Pyongyang might be hoping that its stance will help pave the way for the resumption of official talks for normalization of bilateral relations, they said.
It is not known if Jenkins is aware of North Korea’s response, they said.
Japanese officials are concerned that Jenkins might say he wants to return to North Korea after the reunion.
The officials hope Jenkins will not return to North Korea after he learns of the Pyongyang government’s stance, they said.
A Japanese government official said Jenkins’ departure from the North was “effectively deportation,” and that Jenkins is no longer welcome in North Korea.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters in Tokyo on Friday night that Japan will continue working to resolve Jenkins’ position with the U.S.
Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda indicated Friday morning that it would be no easy task to talk Jenkins into coming to Japan.
In a bid to allay Jenkins’ concerns, Tokyo has sounded out the U.S. about the possibility of not pursuing desertion charges against him.
“But the answer we have received was severe,” Hosoda told a news conference.
Hosoda said the length of the family’s stay in Jakarta is up to them.
Japan was told three North Korean officials accompanied Jenkins and his daughters, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said during a morning news conference in Tokyo.
Akitaka Saiki, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, was among several Japanese officials who went to Pyongyang to pick up the three.
A live broadcast by Korean Central Broadcasting Station showed Saiki meeting Song Il Ho, a senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official, shortly after the Japanese diplomats’ arrival at Pyongyang. The broadcast was distributed to Japanese TV networks.
“We’ll do our utmost” so that Soga’s family will have a good time in Jakarta, Saiki told Song. “You may feel at ease,” he said, according to TV Asahi.
The live broadcast also showed Jenkins and his daughters going through departure procedures at the airport.
A Japanese government team, including officials from the Cabinet Secretariat office working on behalf of abduction victims and their relatives, the National Police Agency and the Foreign Ministry, has been in Jakarta this week preparing for the reunion.
Soga returned to Japan in October 2002 with four other Japanese abducted to North Korea in 1978. The five had to leave their families behind in North Korea.
The North Korea-born children of the four other abductees — two couples — reunited with their parents in Japan in May, after Koizumi went to Pyongyang to collect them.
Soga has said she eventually wants to live in Japan with her husband and daughters.
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