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Americans in North Korea consist mainly of defectors and prisoners of war during the Korean War as well as their locally born descendants.
On September 17, 1996, The New York Times reported the possible presence of American POWs in North Korea, citing recently declassified documents. The documents showed that the U.S. Defense Department knew in December 1953 that "more than 900 American troops were alive at the end of the war but were never released by the North Koreans". The Pentagon did not confirm the report, saying they had no clear evidence that any Americans were being held against their will in North Korea but pledged to continue to investigate accounts of defectors and others who said they had seen American prisoners there. The North Korean government has said it is not holding any Americans.
Operation Big Switch, the exchange of remaining prisoners of war, commenced in early August 1953, and lasted into December. During that period, about 21 Americans soldiers refused to return to their homeland and decided to stay with the communists (along with 1 British and 327 South Koreans).
Shortly before the deadline was about to expire, Americans south of the DMZ broadcast a message to the defectors in Panmunjeom, saying "We believe that there are some of you who desire repatriation." Defector Richard Corden shouted "Do any Americans want to go home?", and his fellow detainees answered "No!".