Fri, 08 Dec 2023

According to Pyongyang, Travis King wanted to find refuge to escape racial discrimination

North Korean authorities decided to expel Travis King, a US soldier who fled to the country this summer, state-run media reported on Wednesday. The news was confirmed by Washington, saying that the service member was now in US custody.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, North Korean officials finished investigating the incident in which King "illegally intruded" into the country's territory near the village of Panmunjom, located north of the de-facto border with South Korea. 

The investigators said King had confessed that he entered North Korea illegally because he "harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army and was disillusioned about the unequal US society." Pyongyang had previously acknowledged last month that the soldier sought refuge in North Korea or another unspecified country due to these reasons.

In this vein, "the relevant organ of the DPRK decided to expel Travis King... under the law of the Republic," KCNA added, referring to North Korea's official name. 

A US official, quoted by CBS News, confirmed North Korea had released King, who appeared to be in "good health and good spirits as he makes his way home."

The agency would not say when the US soldier would leave the country or where he was headed. However, the KCNA report came after General Andrew Harrison, the deputy commander of the United Nations Command in South Korea, said in July that Washington and Pyongyang started a conversation about the release of King, a claim later confirmed by the Pentagon.

King, a 23-year-old private serving as a member of the First Brigade Combat Team, First Armored Division, "willfully and without authorization" crossed the demarcation line between North and South Korea on July 18, according to the US Department of Defense. Several US media outlets, citing US officials, reported at the time that the soldier was facing disciplinary action after being charged with assault in South Korea.

According to the Associated Press, King was escorted by the US military to a local airport to be transported back home. However, instead of boarding the plane, he reportedly joined a group of tourists near the demilitarized zone and later defected across the Armistice Line.

The US soldier became the first known American to be detained by North Korea since Bruce Byron Lowrance, who, according to Pyongyang, illegally entered the country from China in October 2018. Lowrance was released a month later, as relations between Washington and Pyongyang thawed after a landmark summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

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