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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
US 'deserter' to leave N Korea
Charles Jenkins, after talking to Kyodo News on 29 November, 2002
Mr Jenkins has an extraordinary story to tell
A United States soldier who has spent the last four decades in North Korea could soon be leaving the country.

Charles Robert Jenkins is expected to travel to Indonesia to be reunited with his Japanese wife, possibly this month.

The US considers Mr Jenkins a deserter who must face military justice, though his family has always denied this.

Indonesia has no extradition treaty with the US, making it a convenient meeting place for the 62-year-old American and his family.

Mr Jenkins went missing in 1965 while leading a patrol near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). He told his platoon he was going to investigate a noise.

The US Army says he deserted, but relatives in the US believe he was kidnapped.

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

The BBC's Andrew Harding says that Mr Jenkins, if willing to talk, could have some unique insights into North Korea, often described as the world's most isolated nation.

The last time Mr Jenkins saw the outside world, Lyndon Johnson was America's president and man had not yet landed on the moon.

The soldier's case is also being keenly followed in Japan, because of a row over Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea to help train the country's spies.

Mr Jenkins married one of the abducted Japanese women, Hitomi Soga, and Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has made the abduction issue central to normalising diplomatic relations with the North.

Hitomi Soga during a press conference by the five former Japanese abductees at a Tokyo hotel Saturday, May 22, 2004
Hitomi Soga has found the separation difficult

Hitomi Soga was allowed to go back to Japan in October 2002, following a high-profile visit to Pyongyang by Mr Koizumi.

But Mr Jenkins stayed behind with their two teenage daughters, afraid that if he went to Japan too, he would face extradition to the US to be tried for deserting.

Mr Koizumi travelled to Pyongyang again in May and met Mr Jenkins, who said again that he did not want to leave North Korea.

The North Korean authorities, who usually severely restrict travel to and from the country, have indicated that Mr Jenkins is free to leave if he chooses.

The couple's enforced separation has been given wide and sympathetic coverage by the Japanese media.

Our correspondent says dozens of Japanese news organisations have now descended on Indonesia in anticipation of an extraordinary family reunion.

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