Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Last US defector in North Korea alive but ailing

Former U.S. Army private James Dresnok defected to North Korea in 1962. The film of his life, "Crossing the Line," opens for wider release this month in the U.S. and South Korea.

The documentary shows Dresnok to be suffering a variety of ailments from a life of hard drinking and smoking. British director Daniel Gordon said he had initially been unsure Dresnok would live to see the completed film.

"He's still roughly alive," Gordon said he was told of Dresnok's condition when he spoke to his North Korean contacts earlier this summer.

Dresnok, in his mid-60s, has been admitted to hospitals several times but has lived through two winters since filming was completed, the director told foreign journalists.

Dresnok, born in the U.S. state of Virginia, grew up in a foster home and joined the U.S. military in his teens to seek adventure. However, he eventually chafed at military restrictions as a U.S. Army private.

He was being threatened with a court-martial for taking an unauthorized overnight leave when he walked to the North across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula on Aug. 15, 1962. He then started a new life in a land where Americans were seen as the main enemy of the authoritarian regime.

Gordon said that the North Koreans did not censor the filmmakers while working in the country, but that official minders monitored them wherever they went as is done with all outside visitors.

[International Herald Tribune]

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