North Korea has confirmed for the first time that US soldier Travis King crossed into its territory on July 18. The North Korean Central News Agency, the KCNA, reported on Wednesday that King “confessed” to “illegally trespassing” on North Korean soil “because he harbored a grudge against inhumane treatment and racial discrimination within the US Army.” According to the statement from this outlet controlled by the Kim Jong-un regime, the 23-year-old military man expressed “his willingness to seek refuge in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, the official name of North Korea) or in a third country” because of his “disillusionment with the inequality in American society”. These are the first public comments that Pyongyang has made on the case, although the US Department of Defense has not been able to independently verify them.
“According to an investigation carried out by a competent body of the DPRK, Travis King admitted that he had entered the territory of the DPRK illegally,” reports the KCNA. “At 3:30 p.m. on July 18, King, who was accompanying tourists to the Panmunjom Joint Security Area, had to be subdued by KPA soldiers after deliberately intruding on the DPRK-side area between the room for military contacts between the DPRK and the US and the rest room for security officials stationed along the Military Demarcation Line”, adds the text, which ends by informing that the investigation is still open.
Travis King’s mother has asked the North Korean government to treat her son “humanely”, according to the US television network CNN. “Ms. Gates is aware of the report released today by the KCNA. The North Korean authorities are responsible for Travis’ well-being, and she continues to call for him to be treated humanely. She is a mother concerned about her son and would appreciate a call from you,” said Jonathan Franks, spokesman for the King Gates family.
For its part, the Pentagon has assured that King’s safe return “is a priority” and that it is “working through all available channels to achieve that result.” At the moment it is unknown if the US Defense authorities have received more details from North Korea. Until now, officials quoted by US media claimed that Pyongyang had not provided substantive responses to their requests for information on King. A spokesman for the United Nations Command, which oversees the border village of Panmunjom, where King crossed, said he had nothing to add to earlier statements.
The two Koreas are still formally at war, after signing an armistice in lieu of a peace treaty in 1953. Therefore, how to classify the young military continues to be up in the air for the US Army. As a serving soldier, he could be considered a prisoner of war, but factors such as King’s decision to cross into North Korea of his own free will and in civilian dress disqualify him from doing so, Reuters reports.
It is not clear why the boy decided to become the first US soldier to cross into North Korea since 1982 on July 18. King enlisted in the army in January 2021 and was stationed in South Korea, where the US maintains , 70 years after the end of the war, a deployment of 28,500 soldiers. But his position in the Asian country had been marked by various problems with the law. He was found guilty of two counts of assault and damage to public property during an altercation in October, Reuters reports. Fined by a South Korean court, he spent 50 days in detention by local authorities, who released him on July 10. King’s uncle, Myron Gates, told ABC News in early August that his niece had experienced racism during her military deployment and that after spending time in a South Korean jail, he did not seem the same.
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After being released, he was sent home by his superiors for disciplinary matters. On July 17, King confirmed to his supervisors that he was ready to board the Dallas-bound American Airlines plane that would take him back home. The agents who had escorted him to Incheon International Airport in Seoul had only made it as far as passport control, as they were not authorized to take him through. King cleared customs and all security checks, airport officials told reporters, but at the gate, the soldier told airline staff that his passport was missing and he did not board the plane. Some airline workers escorted him back outside the departure area.
King booked for the next day a visit with a private company to the Demilitarized Zone, the only point on the fortified 260-kilometre-long, four-kilometre-wide border where there is no barbed wire and everything is riddled with mines. It is also the only place where contacts, public or secret, between the two Koreas are authorized. It was during the excursion that he was taking along with 42 other tourists when King inexplicably escaped across the Military Demarcation Line, according to what the media witnessed to what happened and later confirmed by US officials familiar with what happened.
No American, detained or deserter, had ever crossed North Korea through that place before, despite the fact that it is enough to jump a small line of bricks to cross, as Donald Trump did in 2019, when the then US president became the first president. of his country to step on the soil of one of the most hermetic dictatorships on the planet.
After crossing the line, King initially attempted to enter Panmungak Hall, a North Korean facility, but the front door was locked, so he ran to the back of the building, at which point North Korean guards rushed him up. to a van and they took him prisoner.
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