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Army, Based On Photo, Says Man Who Defected Is An AWOL Private

April 9, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army, based on a photograph released by Tass, says a man who defected to the Soviet Union last week is indeed a private who went absent without leave from his European unit March 2.

Lt. Col. David Burpee, an Army spokesman, said Army officials in West Germany identified the man in a photo released by the Soviet news agency as Wade Evan Roberts and the woman with him as his girlfriend, Petra Neumann.

″We have been advised by U.S. Army Europe that this is Roberts,″ Burpee said. ″The people in his unit have given a positive identification and say that’s him.

″They’ve also identified the woman as the girlfriend they saw Roberts with.″

Roberts is the first American soldier to defect to the Soviet Union since the Vietnam War.

Tass released photos which it said were of Roberts and Ms. Neumann in Moscow’s Red Square on Wednesday, and published an interview quoting Roberts as saying he defected because he wanted ″a chance to be a human being.″

The Soviets said April 2 Roberts had defected, citing a desire to escape alleged abuse he suffered while in the service. The Pentagon subsequently said a Pvt. 2 Wade E. Roberts had been declared AWOL March 2 and was still missing, but said it could not confirm Roberts went to the Soviet Union.

He was declared a deserter April 2.

Burpee said he did not know whether the State Department would seek to interview Roberts, ″but we have reviewed these photographs and Roberts is the man pictured.″

The Army said Roberts, who turns 22 on Sunday, joined the service Jan. 3, 1985, was trained as a combat wireman, responsible for stringing lines that would be needed for combat phone systems, and was assigned to the 42nd Field Artillery Brigade in Geissen, West Germany.

Roberts listed his home of record as San Bernardino, Calif.

Pentagon sources, requesting anonymity, said Roberts held a ″secret″ security clearance, primarily because his job required access to various communications facilities. The sources added, however, that Roberts did not handle sensitive documents and his defection was not considered a serious breach of security.

According to Tass, Roberts said he loved his people and denied his desertion was an act of treason. It said he was interviewed at a Moscow hotel, but it did not say which one or when.

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