Japan Wants Amnesty for U.S. Defector to N. Korea

Tokyo plans to ask the United States to grant amnesty to an alleged U.S. Army defector who married a Japanese woman kidnapped by North Korea, an official said Sunday.

Charles Robert Jenkins (search), an American who married Hitomi Soga in the North after she was kidnapped from her coastal Japanese hometown in 1978, is wanted by Washington for allegedly deserting his U.S. Army post and defecting to the North in the 1960s.

Soga is among five Japanese who were kidnapped by the North decades ago and returned to Japan in 2002.

All five have relatives still in North Korea. Tokyo is trying to secure their release — but Washington may request Jenkins' extradition if he comes to Japan.

Shinzo Abe, the No. 2 official in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (search), said on a Sunday TV talk show that he hoped the United States would make an exception for Jenkins "based on the importance of the our relationship as allies."

Tokyo plans to ask Washington to either grant Jenkins amnesty or exempt him from prosecution, the Yomiuri newspaper reported Sunday. Japan also hopes the couple's two daughters will be allowed to leave the North.

Japan has already unofficially raised the issue with the United States, but has been told the U.S. president or defense secretary must make the decision, the newspaper said.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (search) may personally ask President Bush for clemency in Jenkins' case when the two leaders meet next month in the United States, the report said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in November 2002 that he firmly opposed pardoning Jenkins, 63, formerly of Rich Square, N.C. He could be jailed for five years if convicted of peacetime desertion.

Getting the North to free the families will be a top priority for Koizumi on his May 22 trip to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

North Korea has admitted abducting 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese language and culture. The North said eight of the 13 have already died.

The four others — two couples — returned to Japan and are also hoping to be reunited with family members still in the North.

Yasushi and Fukie Chimura, kidnapped in 1978, left behind three teenage and college-age children.

Kaoru and Yukiko Hasuike, also taken captive by North Korean agents in 1978, left behind a teenage son and daughter.