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Japanese abductee caught in Cold War tug-of-love

From Rebecca Mackinnon
Tokyo Bureau Chief

Jenkins' wife, Hitomi Soga, is one of 13 Japanese nationals North Korea admitted to have kidnapped in the 1970s
Jenkins' wife, Hitomi Soga, is one of 13 Japanese nationals North Korea admitted to have kidnapped in the 1970s

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CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon reports on the case of former U.S. soldier Charles Jenkins who defected to North Korea in 1965 (November 7)
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(CNN) -- An appearance in a 1980s North Korean propaganda movie was the first evidence alerting U.S. officials to the fact a deserter, Charles Robert Jenkins, was still alive in North Korea.

The plot thickened -- considerably -- when his wife Hitomi Soga arrived in Japan last month from North Korea.

Like that of Jenkins her story also also reads like a tale from a Cold War spy thriller.

At 19 years-of-age she was abducted by North Korea agents off the Japanese coast and given up for dead.

Soga is one of five known survivors among at least 13 Japanese abducted to the North by communist agents in the 1970s.

Along with the other four, she is now in Japan for her first homecoming in nearly a quarter century.

As Soga and her family make up for 24 lost years in her hometown, Jenkins and their two college-age daughters wait for her back in North Korea.

"I would like to meet with my husband and children and take time to discuss what we would like to do" she pleaded recently.

"I think my husband and children are worried about me. Please let me see them soon."

But Soga cannot go back, even though this was originally supposed to have been just a two-week visit.

Arrest fears

Former U.S. soldier Charles Jenkins defected to North Korea in 1965
Former U.S. soldier Charles Jenkins defected to North Korea in 1965

The Japanese government is now saying it is keeping her in Japan -- along with four other Japanese abducted by North Korea -- until the North Korean government agrees to let their families join them in Japan.

Diplomatic discussions on the subject have gone nowhere and the Jenkins case complicates matters.

A Japanese diplomat who recently met him briefly in Pyongyang says he fears arrest in Japan and extradition to the United States because of his deserter status.

"We are talking with American administration what to do with this husband of Hitomi Soga -- if there is a possibility of giving pardon to him, or if there is any way for Mr. Jenkins to live with his wife and children safely in Japan as a free citizen." said Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Hatsuhisa Takashima.

A U.S. Army spokesman recently said that if Jenkins came to Japan, army intelligence officers would want to ask him about his experiences in the North.

After that, they would decide whether to bring charges against him.

Under war conditions, desertion is punishable by death. When done with the "intent to avoid hazardous duty or shirk important service," it brings dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and up to five years in prison.

Meanwhile, high-ranking Japanese officials visited Soga this week and urged her to be patient.

"She told me that she would like to meet with her family as soon as possible. She wants us to make efforts so that she can meet with her husband and daughters in Japan," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

Later, she merely said: "I don't know about my future unless I consult with my family."

Whether the life so far shaped by uncontrollable and bizarre events will have a happy ending still remains beyond Hitomi Soga's control.

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