Sons of US defector to North Korea confirm his death

An undated clip from the movie 'Crossing the Line', featuring the last US defector to North Korea, James Dresnok, looking at a statue of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, in Pyongyang

The only US soldier known to still be living in North Korea after defecting more than five decades ago died last year pledging his 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 Korean War, crossing the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone in 1962.

He went on to appear in North Korean propaganda films and was believed to be the last US 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 heavy 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.

Addressing the recent spike in tensions between Pyongyang and Washington, Ted Dresnok warned that the "US imperialists" were raising "war hysteria madness" with little knowledge 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."

Tensions have been mounting in the region since Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) 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 of "fire and fury" on the North while Pyongyang threatened to fire a salvo of missiles towards the US territory of Guam.

"We have our dear supreme commander Kim Jong-Un. If he is by our side, our victory is certain," said James Dresnok, who also goes by his Korean name Hong Chol, in the video posted Friday.

The late James Dresnok, known as Joe, crossed a minefield at age 21 to reach North Korea, after his wife divorced him and he was reportedly about to be court-martialed.

He was the subject of a British documentary in 2006, Crossing the Line, and expressed satisfaction with his life in Pyongyang, whose citizens enjoy better standards of living than those elsewhere in the isolated country.

He also told a CBS interview that he would not leave even if "you put a billion damn dollars of gold on the table".