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US military in Sweden to bring back AWOL airman

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US military in Sweden to bring back AWOL airman
12:09 CEST+02:00
US military officials were in Sweden this week in an effort to persuade a former US airman who has been living a secret life in Sweden for 28 years to return home to face trial for deserting from the US Air Force.

"First and foremost they want to force him to establish his identity," said Emma Persson, the Swedish attorney for former US airman David Hemler told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

"They want him to return to the United States where he will be put on trial."

Hemler, now 49, recently came forward after 28 years of living under an assumed identity in Sweden after deserting from the US Air Force's 6913th Electronic Security Squadron in Augsburg, Germany in 1984.

While nearly three decades have passed since Hemler went AWOL, he remains a wanted man by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI).

In an effort to bring Hemler to justice, the US military this week sent two representatives stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Stockholm to meet with Persson about how to proceed with the case.

According to the Air Force, Hemler is a "security risk" who had a "high-security clearance" due to his work on a secret project directed against the Soviet Union.

But Hemler has denied having access to sensitive information during his time at the US air base.

In a meeting held in Stockholm on Thursday with US military officials and a representative from the US embassy in Stockholm, Hemler's attorney explained that her client couldn't be forced to do anything against his will here in Sweden.

Hemler, who did not attend the meeting, told DN that he was open to being fingerprinted and submitting DNA samples to confirm his identity, but he wasn't yet ready to return to the United States.

"I won't go back until I've got guarantees about what the maximum penalty will be," he told DN.

Due to the US military's efforts to bring him to justice, Hemler has cancelled a planned trip to his home state of Pennsylvania over concerns for his safety.

"A number of people have said there is a lot of hostility against me in the United States," he said.

After arriving in Sweden in 1984, Hemler eventually gained residency under a false name, attended university and, over time, built up a rather unassuming life as a father and husband, despite an admittedly dubious story about how he first ended up in Sweden.

"I made up a story that I had run away from my parents while they were travelling but nobody believed it," he told DN.

As the US military pursues him, Hemler continues to live and work in Sweden under his assumed identity, which he has refused to divulge to the media.

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