Doctors say accused Army deserter's condition not serious, more tests needed

Friday, July 23rd 2004, 6:09 am
By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ Doctors who have been treating an accused U.S. Army deserter in Japan said Friday his condition isn't serious and that he doesn't need urgent medical care, but that more tests will be carried out.

Charles Jenkins, wanted by the United States for allegedly abandoning his Army platoon in 1965 and defecting to North Korea, has been hospitalized in Tokyo since arriving in Japan on Sunday. Japanese officials say Jenkins, who has lived in the North for nearly four decades, was suffering the aftereffects of an abdominal operation performed in the communist state.

The United States plans to pursue a case against Jenkins, including a possible court-martial, but has not yet officially requested custody of him, citing humanitarian concerns over his health.

It wasn't clear if Japanese doctors' latest diagnosis would prompt U.S. officials to request his handover soon.

Citing privacy laws, doctors refused to specify Jenkins' ailment. But the hospital's deputy chief, Dr. Atsushi Nagai, said: ``After examining him, it appears there is no need for immediate medical treatment.''

Nakai said that when he told this to Jenkins, the American ``seemed to understand that he doesn't have a serious condition.''

Jenkins is married to a Japanese citizen, Hitomi Soga. The two met in North Korea after Soga was kidnapped by Northern agents and taken to the reclusive country in 1978.

Soga was released by North Korea in 2002 and returned to Japan, leaving behind Jenkins and their two daughters.

The 64-year-old North Carolina native told doctors some details about the operation he underwent in North Korea, Nakai said. More tests over the next week will give doctors a better idea of how to treat Jenkins, said Nakai, who is heading the medical team caring for the American.

Although Jenkins had lost about 22 pounds in recent months, he has a decent appetite, doctors said.

Nagai confirmed that doctors also discussed their findings with a delegation from the U.S. Embassy on Friday at the hospital. The group, which included U.S. military doctors, did not meet directly with Jenkins, he said.

The U.S. Embassy refused to confirm the visit.

``We are continuing to consult with the government of Japan about Sgt. Jenkins' case,'' said embassy spokesman Michael Boyle. ``If anything is going on, it is within the context of our consultations on this case, which are at many levels.''

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he hadn't been told of the hospital meeting, but added, ``I think it is part of our efforts to find a solution that satisfies both Japan and the United States.''

It has been a top priority of the Japanese government to reunite Jenkins with his wife.

The couple met in Jakarta, Indonesia, earlier this month, and Jenkins was persuaded to come to Japan for medical treatment, despite the possibility of U.S. prosecution for desertion.