A U.S. national who crossed the demarcation line into North Korea yesterday has been confirmed to be an American service member, fleeing before being sent back home to face military discipline. The Pentagon has reached out to its North Korean counterparts.
An American soldier, stationed in South Korea, fled across the inter-Korean border into North Korea on Tuesday while on a group tour of the Joint Security Area, located along the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas. The U.S. Army has identified the soldier as Private Second Class Travis King. The 23-year-old, who joined the military in January 2021, had been reportedly held on assault charges and was released on July 10th.
Media reports say his rank of private second class after more than two years of service suggests he may have been held back for disciplinary issues or for failing to meet standards. This is because promotion to private first class is automatic after 12 months. In fact, at the time, he was reportedly being sent back to the U.S., to face disciplinary action. King somehow appears to have slipped out of Incheon Airport, and managed to join a civilian tour to the Joint Security Area in the border village of Panmunjom, a tourist attraction –that’s located just 50 kilometers from Seoul and about 160 kilometers from North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. NK News reports that a woman on the same tour as King later posted on social media, that the soldier laughed, just before ditching the group and running in between some buildings to cross the border. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday confirmed that the U.S. soldier “willfully” crossed the border, and said the Pentagon’s main concern is for the soldier’s welfare.
“What I can confirm -and I would say upfront is that we’re very early in this event and so there’s a lot that we’re still trying to learn -but what we do know is that one of our servicemembers who was on a tour, willfully and without authorization crossed the military demarcation line.” According to the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon has reached out to its North Korean counterparts for information. And the White House also confirmed the soldier is believed to be detained in North Korea, which makes King the first known American detained in the North –in nearly five years.
“We believe the soldier is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our North Korean counterparts to resolve this incident.” The incident comes at a sensitive time amid high tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with a U.S. nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine now in South Korea for a rare visit –in an apparent warning to North Korea over its recent provocations. But North Korea remains silent.
Experts say it’s likely that North Korea may use the soldier for propaganda purposes in the short term, and then as a bargaining chip in the long term.
Source: Bae Eun-ji, Arirang News.