The United States has reassigned accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins to the U.S. forces based in Japan from South Korea, where he was posted when he apparently defected to North Korea in 1965, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Wednesday.

Speaking at a regular morning news conference, Hosoda said the transfer of duty records took effect July 18, the day the 64-year-old Jenkins came to Tokyo from Jakarta for medical treatment.

Jenkins is wanted by the U.S. military, which maintains that he deserted and defected to North Korea in 1965 while on patrol along the Demilitarized Zone. He later married Hitomi Soga, who was abducted to North Korea from Japan in 1978 by agents of Pyongyang and allowed to return home in 2002.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity that the transfer is an indication that Washington intends to court-martial Jenkins at a U.S. military installation in Japan instead of in the U.S.

“It is easier to try him in Japan if Jenkins is assigned to the U.S. forces in Japan,” the official said.

Hosoda indicated without elaborating that the U.S. may have reassigned Jenkins as a preparatory step to urge Tokyo to hand him over to U.S. authorities for court-martial. So far, Washington has not made a request of this kind, apparently out of humanitarian considerations, because Jenkins is still in a hospital.

But according to the Foreign Ministry, this is not necessarily the case. The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement stipulates that Japan must hand over any member of the U.S. military upon request, regardless of where the person is assigned.

The bilateral SOFA is applicable to military personnel who are in Japan even on a business trip or other purposes, ministry officials said.

Food aid considered

The Cabinet may endorse in early August a plan to give 250,000 tons of food aid to North Korea with a view to providing the aid within the month, government sources said Wednesday.

Once the Cabinet endorses the plan, the government will work out details of the aid package through consultations with the World Food Program, possibly aiming to provide it around Aug. 10, the sources said.

Japan and North Korea are arranging working-level talks from Aug. 10 that will focus primarily on North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese, an issue that has been a main obstacle to normalizing bilateral ties.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration hopes that if the Cabinet moves swiftly to endorse the plan, this will encourage the cash-strapped nation to be more cooperative during subsequent working-level talks on the abduction issue, the sources said.

A recent announcement by the United States that it will provide 50,000 tons of food to North Korea also prompted Koizumi to move quickly in reaching a similar decision, they said.

Koizumi pledged the food aid — along with $10 million worth of medical supplies — during a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in May in Pyongyang.

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