Repatriated abductee Hitomi Soga and her family arrived Sunday in Tokyo in a move expected to lead to their permanent residence in Japan, although uncertainty remains over the fate of her American husband accused by the United States of deserting from the army.
After arriving at Haneda airport at 5:48 p.m. from Indonesia on a government-chartered airliner, Charles Jenkins, 64, was hospitalized for treatment of stomach problems. Soga, 45, and the couple’s two North Korean-born daughters, Mika, 21, and Belinda, 18, are to stay in a room in the hospital for some time.
As the United States eventually is expected to demand Jenkins’ extradition under the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement, Tokyo plans to continue negotiations with Washington on a settlement that would enable Jenkins to remain in Japan.
“I’ve finally come back,” Soga told Kyoko Nakayama, adviser to the Cabinet Secretariat on the abduction issue, soon after meeting her at the Tokyo hospital, Nakayama said.
On the way from Jakarta to Tokyo, the family celebrated the younger daughter Belinda’s upcoming birthday with a chocolate cake, government officials said.
When they arrived at Haneda, the daughters no longer wore North Korean badges they had donned while in Jakarta; they instead wore blue ribbons, a symbol of the Japanese movement to seek the eventual return of all Japanese abducted by North Korea.
According to government officials, Jenkins has not recuperated from a stomach operation in North Korea and may have a serious illness requiring further surgery.
The United States maintains it will seek his custody after his arrival in Japan. But U.S. Ambassador Howard Baker said Saturday, “There are no plans for U.S. officials to see Jenkins in the immediate future” as Washington is “sympathetic” to his health condition.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said Saturday that Jenkins was willing to run the risk of prosecution by the United States by traveling to Japan.
Hassan said Jenkins voiced his willingness during a meeting with Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri on Saturday, which was also attended by Soga and their daughters.
Prior to their Jakarta departure Sunday morning, Soga released a letter of appreciation to the Indonesian people and government.
“We leave for Japan today, but the past 10 days in Indonesia will become an unforgettably good memory for us for the rest of our lives,” she wrote in Japanese.
Soga said she and her family were able to reunite after 21 months thanks to the warm support of the Indonesian government and people, as well as from Japanese citizens living there.
She said they decided to leave for Japan so her husband could receive medical treatment. The four were staying at a Jakarta hotel since their July 9 reunion. Indonesia was selected as the reunion site because it does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
Jenkins and the daughters stayed behind in North Korea in October 2002 when Soga and four other abduction victims returned to Japan for what was initially supposed to be a temporary homecoming. But the five decided to remain in Japan.
Jenkins, who initially refused to go to Japan for fear he would be extradited for a U.S. court-martial, reportedly agreed to the visit given his poor health.
Soga and Jenkins married in North Korea in 1980, two years after she was kidnapped by North Korean agents.
Soga and the four other abductees were repatriated a month after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang for the first time for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
At that time, the North admitted to abducting eight other Japanese in the late 1970s and early 1980s that had since died.