Sons of US defector to North Korea confirm his death

This screengrab taken from an undated YouTube video shows Ted Dresnok (right), son of US defector to North Korea James Joseph Dresnok, and his brother James during an interview at an unknown location, on Aug 21, 2017.
This screengrab taken from an undated YouTube video shows Ted Dresnok (right), son of US defector to North Korea James Joseph Dresnok, and his brother James during an interview at an unknown location, on Aug 21, 2017.PHOTO: AFP/URIMINZOKKIRI

SEOUL (AFP) - The only US soldier known still to be living in North Korea after defecting more than five decades ago died last year pledging loyalty to the "great leader Kim Jong Un", his sons said.

James Joseph Dresnok was among just a handful of American servicemen to desert following the 1950-53 Korean War, crossing the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in 1962.

He went on to appear in North Korean propaganda films and was believed to be the last US military defector in the country, the others all having died or been allowed to leave.

In a video interview posted on the state-run Uriminzokkiri website, Ted and James Dresnok, his two adult sons, confirmed that their father suffered a fatal stroke in November last year.

"Our father was in the arms of the republic and received only the love and care of the party until his passing at age 74," said Ted Dresnok, the elder of the two.

Brown-haired and hazel-eyed, he wore a Korean People's Army uniform in the video like his brother, adorned with a badge depicting the North's founder Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong Il.

Both men were born in North Korea and spoke Korean with a thick Northern accent.

"Our father asked us to render devoted service to our great leader Kim Jong Un," said Ted Dresnok, who also goes by the Korean name Hong Soon Chol.

Their comments were similar to those of ordinary North Koreans, who normally only ever express officially approved sentiments when speaking for a foreign audience.

It was the brothers' second appearance on the programme, after they praised the country in a May 2016 interview.

Their mother is said to have been Doina Bumbea, a Romanian whose family say she was kidnapped by Pyongyang.

In a searing 2014 report on human rights in North Korea, a UN commission of inquiry said: "Women abducted from Europe, the Middle East and Asia were subjected to forced marriages with men from other countries to prevent liaisons on their part with ethnic Korean women that could result in interracial children." Another American soldier defector, Charles Jenkins, married Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga within weeks of meeting her in the North.

Soga was allowed to leave in 2002, and Jenkins and their two daughters followed suit two years later. He was court-martialled for desertion and given a 30-day custodial sentence. They now live on a small Japanese island where he makes a living selling rice crackers.

Four other post-1953 US army deserters are all believed to have died in the North.

- 'A billion damn dollars' - .

Reports of Dresnok's death emerged earlier this year but the brothers' video is the first official confirmation.

Tensions have been mounting in the region since Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month that appeared to bring much of the US within range.

That sparked a volley of threats between Pyongyang and Washington, with President Donald Trump warning the North of "fire and fury" while Pyongyang threatened to fire a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam.

Ted Dresnok said the "US imperialists" were raising "war hysteria madness" while knowing little about the North's military and its people.

If war breaks out, he said, "We will not miss the opportunity and wipe the land of the US from the earth forever." In the video, posted Friday, his brother James, whose Korean name is Hong Chol, added: "We have our dear supreme commander Kim Jong-Un. If he is by our side, our victory is certain." The late James Dresnok, known as Joe, was 21, newly divorced and reportedly facing a court-martial when he made his way through the minefields that litter the DMZ to reach North Korea.

He was the subject of a 2006 British documentary, "Crossing the Line", which was nominated for a Grand Jury prize at the Sundance film festival.

In it he expressed satisfaction with his life in Pyongyang, where citizens enjoy better standards of living than people elsewhere in the isolated country.

Co-director Nick Bonner told AFP: "Joe seemed to have accepted he was going to remain in the north due to politics and ill health.

"Also his memory of life in the US was not so rosy, having grown up in an orphanage and not established himself." Dresnok once told a CBS interview he would not leave the North even if "you put a billion damn dollars of gold on the table".