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At 64, accused deserter surrenders

40 years later, questions remain

CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- With a simple salute to an Army marshal early yesterday, a frail Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins capped months of negotiations between Japan and North Korea and eased a diplomatic headache for Tokyo and Washington.

Jenkins surrendered to US authorities at Camp Zama, 40 years after allegedly defecting to North Korea. But questions remain over how Jenkins left his unit and how deeply involved he was in the secretive North's espionage activities.

Accompanied by his wife and their two North Korea-born daughters, the diminutive, suit-clad 64-year-old turned himself in at the gate of the Army base with a salute to the base provost marshal -- the military equivalent of a police chief.

"Sir, I'm Sergeant Jenkins and I'm reporting," he said.

Instead of being put in handcuffs, Jenkins was taken to the base personnel office, put in a sergeant's summer dress uniform, and given an advance on his pay -- $3,273.36 a month.

Colonel John Dykstra, a legal officer, said the Army would conduct an investigation to determine whether to proceed with a court-martial, which would be held at the base. He said the process could take several months.

Until the proceedings begin, Dykstra said, Jenkins is just another sergeant.

"He'll be permitted to move about freely on Camp Zama," Dykstra said. "He can use the bowling facilities, the snack bar, the fishing pond."

Jenkins will not be free to leave, however. He will be restricted to living on base with his family. He was assigned yesterday to an administrative post but was given the weekend off.

The by-the-book treatment of Jenkins marks a sharp contrast with the charges he faces.

Jenkins is charged with deserting his unit along the demilitarized zone in January 1965 and defecting to the North, where he lived for 39 years. He is one of four suspected American deserters the Pentagon had confirmed were in the North. Two have since reportedly died.

He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Major John Amberg, a Zama spokesman, said Jenkins is also charged with two counts of encouraging disloyalty, one of aiding the enemy, and two of soliciting others to desert.

While in North Korea, he made propaganda broadcasts, played devilish Americans in anti-US films, and taught English at a school for spies. Suspicions have been raised that he might also have been involved in the brutal interrogations of US sailors captured in the 1968 USS Pueblo incident.

The Rich Square, N.C., native is hoping to strike a plea bargain with military authorities to avert imprisonment. He has met several times in recent weeks with an Army-appointed attorney to prepare his case. The attorney also accompanied Jenkins yesterday.

Jenkins's wife, Hitomi Soga, made a plea for leniency.

"I expect we have a lot more to face in the days to come," Soga said as she joined Jenkins early yesterday at a Tokyo hospital where he had been under medical care since coming to Japan in July. "But we hope that the four of us can live together as soon as possible."

Jenkins has not addressed the desertion charge. His lawyer, Captain James Culp, had no comment yesterday.

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