A U.S. soldier who dashed across the heavily armed North Korean border last month has reportedly admitted to illegally intruding into the country with an intent to “seek refuge,” according to North Korea’s state media.
The soldier has been identified as Pvt. Travis King, 23. He illegally crossed the heavily fortified North Korean border while on a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on July 18.
Pvt. King served two months in a South Korean prison for assault and was due to return to Fort Bliss, Texas—where he could have faced additional military discipline and discharge from the service—on July 18.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Aug. 16 that Pvt. King had been “kept under control” by North Korean soldiers after he deliberately intruded into North Korea’s territory.
KCNA claimed that Pvt. King confessed that he had decided to cross into North Korea as he “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”
“He also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society,” KCNA stated.
DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name. KCNA asserted that an investigation into the case is currently underway by “a relevant organ of the DPRK.”
This marks North Korea’s first public comments about the American soldier’s status. The United States had repeatedly requested an update from the North Korean regime but received no response.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said on Aug. 1 that North Korea had acknowledged the United Nations Command’s inquiry regarding the soldier but gave no other information.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has previously said that Pvt. King had “willfully and without authorization” crossed the military demarcation line separating the two Koreas.
Soldier’s Family Appeals to North Korea
The soldier’s mother, Claudine Gates, is appealing to North Korea to treat her son “humanely” and that she was hoping to receive “a phone call” from him, according to family spokesman Jonathan Franks.
“Lastly, she has been in touch with the Army this evening and appreciates a [Defense Department] statement that it remains focused on bringing Travis home,” Mr. Franks said.
Soo Kim, an expert with Virginia-based consultancy LMI and a former CIA analyst, said that this could be part of “North Korean propaganda” as the detained American citizen will have “no sway in how North Korea chooses to cast its narrative.”
“As for King’s release, his fate rests in North Korea’s hands. Perhaps the regime will try to ‘bargain’ King’s life in exchange for financial concessions from the U.S. More than likely, negotiations won’t be easy, and terms will be dictated by Pyongyang,” she said.
While more than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea to avoid political oppression and economic difficulties since the end of the 1950–1953 Korean War, cases of Americans or South Koreans defecting to North Korea are rare.
A small number of U.S. soldiers went to North Korea during the Cold War, including Charles Jenkins, who deserted his Army post in South Korea in 1965 and fled across the DMZ. He appeared in North Korean propaganda films and married a Japanese nursing student who had been abducted from Japan by North Korean agents. He died in Japan in 2017.
Jack Phillips and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times