CAMP ZAMA, Japan – A 64-year-old American who disappeared into North Korea for four decades was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in prison for desertion, closing a Cold War mystery.

U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Jenkins also pleaded guilty to aiding the enemy by teaching English at a North Korean military school from 1981 to 1985. He was reduced in rank to private and dishonorably discharged.

The military judge, Col. Denise Vowell, recommended the jail time be suspended. If the military accepts that recommendation, Jenkins would be released from a naval facility in Yokosuka, Japan.

During the six-hour court-martial, Jenkins, a North Carolina native, and his wife, Hitomi Soga, who was kidnapped in Japan as a teenager by North Korean agents in 1978, spoke about the hardship and loneliness they endured for 39 years in the isolated and repressive communist country. Jenkins wept repeatedly.

The couple’s two North Korean-born daughters, Mika, 21, and Brinda, 19, listened from the back of the courtroom.

Jenkins was an eighth-grade dropout from Rich Square, N.C., when he joined the Army. He said in a statement read to the court he left his unit because he heard it was going to be transferred to combat in Vietnam. He said he thought North Korea would turn him over to the Soviet Union and eventually he could get home.

Jenkins said he set out before light in extreme cold, after a night in which he drank 10 cans of beer out of fear and nervousness.

“I just wanted to go home,” he said in a statement read to the court by his military defense lawyer, Capt. Jimmie D. Culp.

“I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t know the future ahead of me,” Jenkins said.

In North Korea, he appeared in propaganda films, playing an American in at least one anti-U.S. movie.

He pleaded not guilty to encouraging others to desert and making disloyal statements, and those charges were dropped.

Most Japanese feel sympathy for Jenkins and his wife and daughters. The kidnapping of Soga and other Japanese to North Korea is a deeply emotional issue in Japan.

North Korea in 2002 returned five Japanese it had abducted decades earlier, including Soga. She went to her homeland and stayed there.

Jenkins and his daughters left North Korea in July. He turned himself into U.S. military personnel Sept. 11 and has been working as a clerk at Camp Zama, an American base outside Tokyo, earning $3,300 a month.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi repeatedly asked the United States to treat Jenkins leniently and allow him to live in freedom with his family.

(Doi is a special correspondent in Tokyo.)

(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-03-04 1616EST

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