After nearly two years of controversy overseeing the Justice Department's public affairs office, David R. Runkel plans to resign in January and move to the Central American nation of Belize.

His wife, Deedie Runkel, a congressional affairs official at the Peace Corps, has been named Peace Corps country director for Belize and he will accompany her there. Runkel said yesterday he doesn't have a job lined up there. "A number of times, she has moved and left important positions as a result of my career changes -- now it's time to follow her," he said.

Runkel is one of the charter members of the "Pennsylvania Mafia" -- the small group of aides who worked for Dick Thornburgh when he was governor of Pennsylvania and accompanied him to Washington when he was named attorney general.

Runkel, a former Philadelphia Bulletin reporter, served as Thornburgh's press secretary during a period when critics charged that the Justice Department was restricting the flow of public information. Last May, Runkel was assigned to his current position as communications director after questions were raised about the role he played during an FBI leak investigation involving House Majority Leader William H. Gray III (D-Pa.).

It was not clear whether Runkel's post as communications director would be filled. A new press secretary is expected to be named later this week.

Asked if he would have any parting comments, Runkel said: "I have many thoughts about the Department of Justice and the press corps covering it. And I intend to keep them to myself."