Jenkins became an unlikely celebrity in Japan after his wife, a victim of the regimes cold war abductions, was freed in 2002

Charles Jenkins, a US soldier who defected to North Korea and later married a Japanese victim of the regime's cold war abductions, has died in Japan aged 77.

Jenkins, a aborigine of North Carolina, became an unlikely celebrity in Japan after his wife, Hitomi Soga, was liberate by North Korea in 2002 and returned to her native country. Two years later, he and the couple's two daughters, Mika and Brinda, joined Soga and settled in her hometown on the remote Sea of Japan island of Sado.

In the US, however, some regarded Jenkins as a traitor after details emerged of his defection to the communist North in 1965, at the high levels of the cold war.

He was accused of deserting his division while on patrol in South Korea and fleeing to North Korea, where he taught English and occasionally played sinister Americans in propaganda films.

He afterward said the North Korean authorities had turned down his request to be sent to the Soviet Union, where he planned to turn himself in at the US embassy in Moscow.

Jenkins married Soga, one of his language students, in 1980- a union between a human who had chosen to defect, albeit, as he would claim afterwards, under the influence of alcohol, and a woman carried out in order to North Korea against her will.

Soga was one of more than a dozen Japanese citizens who were snatched by the regime's spies in the 1970 s and 80 s and taken to North Korea to teach agents their language and customs.

She was taken from near her home on Sado island in 1978 when she was a 19 -year-old student nurse. The fate of her mom, who was abducted at the same day, is unknown.

Soga and four other abductees returned to Japan in October 2002 following a summit in Pyongyang between then Japanese “ministers ” Junichiro Koizumi and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Her husband, fearful that he would be court-martialled if he joined his wife in Japan, remained in North Korea with their daughters. The family were reunited in a third country, Indonesia, in 2004.

The meeting was supposed to be temporary, but all four flew to Japan days later after Jenkins received assurances that he would not be arrested on his arrival.

His fate briefly strained ties between Japan and the US. Amid an outpouring of empathy for Soga and her daughters, the countries reached a deal that would allow him to plead guilty to desertion- a crime that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment- but rapidly rejoin his family.

After expending several weeks in a Japanese hospital treat it for complications from an operation in North Korea, Jenkins reported for obligation, in uniform, at the US army headquarters in Japan.

He was sentenced to 30 days' detention and given a dishonourable discharge. He was released six days early for good behaviour.

Soon after his release from US custody, Jenkins fought back tears as he told reporters on Sado that he was starting” the first day of the final chapter of my life” with his wife and daughters.” It is here ,” he added,” that I will hopefully live out my remaining days “.

[ youtube https :// www.youtube.com/ watch? v =d yypCPgOeSY? enablejsapi= 1& rel= 0& showinfo= 0& origin= https :// www.theguardian.com& w= 100& h= 100]

Play Video
0:59

Charles Jenkins, who defected to North Korea, speaks after his release in 2004 – video

Jenkins, who had left school at 15 and spoke no Japanese when he arrived on Sado, was given a job greeting tourists and selling souvenirs.

In a 2012 interview he said he had procured happiness on the island and appreciated the freedom he and his family enjoyed in Japan.

He died on Monday, according to Japanese media. A cause of death was not given.

Read more: www.theguardian.com