NIGARA JENKINS
AP
Accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins, right, salutes at U.S. military police officer Paul Nigara as he surrenders at U.S. Army's Camp Zama, south of Tokyo, Saturday.
updated 9/11/2004 1:39:02 AM ET 2004-09-11T05:39:02

Saluting and standing at attention, accused U.S. Army deserter Charles Jenkins surrendered to U.S. military authorities Saturday to face charges that he left his army unit in 1965 and defected to North Korea.

Jenkins, 64, turned himself in at the U.S. Army’s Camp Zama accompanied by his Japanese wife and two daughters, taking a major step toward settling a diplomatic quandary between Washington and Tokyo.

The North Carolina native, who had been hospitalized since arriving in Japan in July, saluted and stood at attention before entering the provost marshal’s office to be put back on active duty as a sergeant.

“Sir, I’m Sergeant Jenkins and I’m reporting,” Jenkins declared as he met the provost marshal, Lt. Col. Paul Nigara, after arriving in a minivan from his Tokyo hospital.

“You are now under the control of the U.S. Army,” Nigara told him in response before escorting Jenkins into a base building.

Jenkins is charged with abandoning his unit and defecting to the North, where he lived for 39 years. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. While in the reclusive communist state, he made propaganda broadcasts and played devilish Americans in anti-U.S. films.

Jenkins is widely expected to strike a plea bargain with military authorities in order to receive lighter punishment. He has met several times in recent weeks with an Army-appointed attorney to prepare his case.

“I expect we have a lot more to face in the days to come,” Jenkins’ wife, Hitomi Soga, said as she left a Tokyo hotel earlier Saturday. “But we hope that the four of us can live together as soon as possible.”

Jenkins’ fate has become the focus of intense concern in Japan because of Soga, who was one of more than a dozen Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s and taken to North Korea.

She and Jenkins met soon after she arrived in the communist state in 1978. Soga was allowed to return to Japan after a historic Japan-North Korea summit in Pyongyang in 2002, but Jenkins and the couple’s daughters remained in the North until this summer.

The Japanese government has argued for leniency so Jenkins can live in Japan with Soga, whose plight has inspired widespread sympathy here. Tokyo arranged a reunion of the family in Jakarta, Indonesia, in July, and then convinced Jenkins to come to Japan for treatment for ailments linked to an operation he had in North Korea.

The United States turned down Japanese requests for special treatment for Jenkins and insisted on pursuing a case against him. Washington, however, had not requested custody while he was in the hospital out of humanitarian concerns.

Jenkins announced in a statement last week that he would soon voluntarily surrender to U.S. authorities to face the charges against him, and denied ever intending to come to Japan in order to evade prosecution.

U.S. military officials did not handcuff Jenkins as he arrived at Camp Zama, and it was unclear when or if he would be formally arrested. Jenkins was to be presented to his new company commander and given a new uniform.

“He’ll be treated with dignity and fairness, and he’s innocent until proven guilty,” said army spokesman Maj. John Amberg.

Jenkins has not publicly addressed the charges against him, but family members in North Carolina fighting to have him pardoned have argued that Jenkins was kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken there against his will.

U.S. authorities, however, say they have letters by Jenkins showing he intended to defect.
Jenkins’ nephew, James Hyman, who argues he has evidence his uncle is innocent, said after Jenkins left the hospital that he hoped the surrender and court proceedings would solve the mystery surrounding the case.

“Hopefully we can get the truth,” Hyman said from his home in Dallas, North Carolina, adding that he thought his uncle would plead guilty to the charge related to his appearance in propaganda films in the plea bargain.

Once in U.S. custody, Jenkins — who was never discharged from the military — will be put in uniform, given his Army salary and possibly put up in base housing with his family like other soldiers while his case makes its way through the justice system.

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