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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 November, 2004, 07:55 GMT
North Korean mystery solved
By Sarah Buckley
BBC News Online

Charles Jenkins, after talking to Kyodo News on 29 November, 2002
Jenkins went to North Korea in 1965
An elderly American's court martial in Japan has finally shed light on one of the Cold War's most intriguing mysteries.

It had never been clear how US army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins ended up in North Korea, and how he went on to live there for nearly 40 years.

But now he has admitted to the military court that, as a 24-year-old on duty in South Korea, he went to the North out of fear, trying to avoid service on the Korean border or in Vietnam.

"I started to fear something for myself, but I started to fear even more that I might cause other soldiers to be killed," he told the court.

Charles Robert Jenkins, now 64, disappeared on 5 January 1965, when he was serving in South Korea to help guard the armistice which ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

He was leading a patrol near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), when he told his platoon he was going to investigate a noise. He never came back.

Megumi Yokota (file picture)
Snatched in the '70s and '80s
Used as cultural trainers for N Korean spies
Five allowed home in 2002
Five children now freed from N Korea
Eight said to be dead, others missing

In court on Wednesday he told how he had feared he would be sent to more dangerous duty on the DMZ between the two Koreas, or worse, in Vietnam, and decided to set off for North Korea.

In frequently tearful testimony, he said he had planned to ask the North to send him to the Soviet Union, where he would seek amnesty at the US embassy, but that his plans did not work out.

Instead, he was subjected to sometimes brutal treatment in North Korea, where he was forced to teach English and to appear in propaganda films.

He told the court he frequently wanted to die.

But he said his misery was alleviated when he met and fell in love with a Japanese nurse, Hitomi Soga, who he was asked to teach English.

In an interview with the Hong Kong-based magazine Far East Economic Review (Feer) earlier this year, he said they were drawn together by their hatred of the North Korean regime.

"There was no-one in the village I lived in that thought that she would ever marry me," because of the age difference, he said. He is 19 years her senior.

Charles Jenkins and his daughters Mika (left) and Belinda in Pyongyang, November 2002 - photo released by Japanese magazine Shukan Kinyobi
Mr Jenkins and his daughters did not see Hitomi for 21 months

"But after meeting her, 38 days later we were married. My wife and I because very close as far as love because she hated the [North] Korean government as well as I, so her and I joined hands in marriage on 8 August, 1980. From that time on we lived very, very happy," he told the magazine.

What makes Jenkins' circumstances all the more unusual is that his wife also has an extraordinary story to tell.

Hitomi Soga had been kidnapped by North Korean agents in Japan in 1978 in order to help train North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs.

In October 2002, the Japanese Government arranged for Ms Soga, and four other kidnap victims, to visit their home country for the first time since their abduction, after Pyongyang admitted it was holding them.

The homecoming was supposed to be brief, but Tokyo never allowed the five to return, and went on to campaign for their families to join them.

Emotional reunion

In May 2004, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went to North Korea to collect the abductees' family members.

But Jenkins stayed behind with the couple's two daughters, apparently fearing arrest by the Japanese authorities on behalf of the US.

Pyongyang later allowed him to travel to Indonesia, which does not have an extradition treaty with the US, where he and his wife held an emotional reunion on 9 July.

A few days later the family left for Tokyo where Jenkins received urgent medical treatment. He is reported to have been treated for a panic disorder and an infection from a prostrate operation carried out in North Korea.

After several weeks in hospital, Jenkins finally gave himself up to the US military authorities stationed in Japan.

The Pentagon charged Jenkins with desertion and five other related charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Jenkins has obviously had an extremely traumatic experience, and on top of that, now faces a 30-day prison sentence. But once that has been served, he may eventually find peace.

It is thought likely that he will be allowed to settle in Japan with his wife and children.

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