Charles Jenkins: US sergeant who defected to North Korea and became prisoner for nearly 40 years dies

North Korea defector: Former US army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins, pictured with his Japanese wife Hitomi Soga, has died aged 77: REUTERS
North Korea defector: Former US army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins, pictured with his Japanese wife Hitomi Soga, has died aged 77: REUTERS

A former US sergeant who defected to North Korea and became a prisoner in Pyongyang for almost 40 years has died.

Charles Jenkins, 77, lived in Japan where he had settled with his wife after his release in 2004.

Mr Jenkins was among four US soldiers who defected in the 1960s before becoming film stars in North Korea. He was the only one to be released.

The others are believed to have died in the rogue state, including James Dresnok who reportedly died of a stroke last year.

Jenkins collapsed outside his home, according to Japanese media reports (EPA)
Jenkins collapsed outside his home, according to Japanese media reports (EPA)

Mr Jenkins died on Sado island on Monday, where he was living with his wife Hitomi Soga. She was also a former prisoner of North Korea.

According to Japanese media, Mr Jenkins collapsed outside his home and later died of heart problems in hospital.

His wife said in a statement that she was "very surprised" by his death, AFP news agency reported.

While stationed with the US Army in South Korea by the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) in 1965, Mr Jenkins decided to abandon his unit and defect to the North. He feared he would be killed in patrols or sent to fight in the Vietnam War.

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