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U.S. defector in North Korea interviewed

The man believed to be the last American defector still living in North Korea says he has no plans to return home, according to filmmakers who interviewed him.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The man believed to be the last American defector still living in North Korea says he has no plans to return home, according to two British filmmakers who interviewed him for a documentary.

James Dresnok was a U.S. Army private when he crossed over the Stalinist state in 1962. He lives now in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, where he says he likes his “simple life,” said filmmaker Nicholas Bonner, who met him there in May.

“To us he’s the most fascinating character because he’s still there,” Bonner said Sunday in Beijing.

The U.S. military has said that Dresnok, from Richmond, Va., left the army in August 1962 at age 21.

The film crew met with Dresnok and with Charles Jenkins, an accused U.S. army deserter from Rich Square, N.C., who has since left North Korea for medical treatment in Japan.

'They took good are of us'
“We were under the supervision of the North Korean military,” Dresnok told the filmmakers, according to their news release. “They took good care of us and they requested us to teach English to military personnel.”

Dresnok and Jenkins told the filmmakers that two other American servicemen had died in North Korea of natural causes — Pvt. Larry A. Abshier of Urbana, Ill., who the U.S. military says went missing from his unit in May 1962 at age 19, and Cpl. Jerry W. Parrish of Morganfield, Ky., who is accused of deserting in December 1963 at age 19.

“I did not want to stay in DPRK at first,” Dresnok told the filmmakers, referring to North Korea by the initials of its formal name. “I wanted to go to Russia,” he said.

“Having crossed, after a few months, I began thinking it over and decided to remain,” he is quoted as saying.

“I’m glad I did, because about 10 years ago, Russia changed from socialism to capitalism. If I was in Russia right now, I would be out of work,” he said. “It would be the same if I returned to America. I find it more convenient to live among peaceful people, living a simple life.”

Open interviews?
The interviews were arranged by the North Korean government, and it’s unclear whether the Americans had any opportunity to make comments critical of life in the secretive and repressive state had they wanted to.

Jenkins’ nephew in the United States believes he was coerced into working for North Korea, where he appeared in propaganda films.

Jenkins, who is still wanted by U.S. authorities on charges he deserted his post in 1965, arrived in Japan last month for medical treatment and to be reunited with his wife.

His wife, Hitomi Soga, was kidnapped from Japan by North Korean agents in 1978 and married Jenkins two years later. She returned home to Japan in 2002 along with other Japanese who had been abducted, following pressure on Pyongyang from the Tokyo government.

Bonner and fellow filmmaker Daniel Gordon plan to film interviews with Dresnok in September.

They have previously made two films in North Korea, in association with the BBC and with cooperation from Pyongyang.