A US soldier crossed the border into North Korea illegally in the summer. He was taken into custody. Now he should leave the country again.
US soldier Travis King, who defected to North Korea from South Korea in July, has been expelled from Pyongyang and is in US custody. “I can confirm that Private Travis King is in U.S. custody,” a U.S. government official said Wednesday.
The North Korean state news agency KCNA had previously reported that King should be expelled. The reason given was that the soldier had entered the People’s Republic illegally. It was initially unclear when he would leave the country.
K. crossed the border on July 18 during a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) on the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea. U.S. officials had said they believed King had crossed the border intentionally.
Soldier is said to have been upset
A month after the incident, in mid-August, North Korea’s power apparatus commented for the first time on the whereabouts of the young US soldier. During investigations, he admitted to illegally entering North Korea, the state-controlled media in the isolated country reported at the time. He is said to have defected to North Korea out of anger over “the inhumane treatment and racial discrimination in the US Army.”
According to Pyongyang, the soldier, a black man, expressed a desire to seek refuge in North Korea or a third country because he was disillusioned with “the unequal American society.”
North Korea’s account of the man’s alleged motives could not be independently verified. The US had no direct access to him.
“It’s probably half true, half propaganda”
“It’s probably half true, half propaganda,” said North Korea expert and former researcher at the South Korean Institute for National Unification, Park Young Ho, about the soldier’s alleged statements. Nobody knows what King really wanted.
The USA and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. North Korea, which is largely isolated internationally mainly because of its nuclear weapons program, has accused the USA of hostile policies for decades.
According to US forces in South Korea, the soldier had taken part in a commercial tour along the South Korean part of the demilitarized zone and then intentionally crossed the border with North Korea. As the US Department of Defense later announced, the soldier was actually supposed to return home. In South Korea he had spent a certain amount of time in a detention center for a crime.
The so-called demilitarized zone separates the two Korean states from each other. In recent decades, Americans have crossed the border with North Korea several times without permission. There they were usually sentenced to several years in prison and only released after long negotiations.