SEOUL — The US soldier who ran across the border into North Korea last month “admitted that he illegally intruded”, Pyongyang’s state news agency KCNA said today, citing an investigation.
The report is the first public comment from North Korea on the case of Travis King, who was heading back to the United States after a run-in with South Korean police when he snuck away to join a tourist trip to the Demilitarised Zone.
“According to an investigation by a relevant organ of the DPRK, Travis King admitted that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK,” KCNA said, using an acronym for North Korea’s official name.
“During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harboured ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army,” KCNA added.
After a drunken pub fight, an incident with police and a stay in South Korean jail, Private Second Class King was being taken to the airport last month to fly back to Texas.
But instead of travelling to Fort Bliss for disciplinary hearings, King snuck away, joined a Demilitarised Zone sightseeing trip and slipped over the border.
King “came to be kept under control by soldiers of the Korean People’s Army on duty as he deliberately intruded into the area of the DPRK side between the room for the DPRK-US military contacts and the rest room of security officers along the Military Demarcation Line,” KCNA said Wednesday, confirming King’s detention in North Korea for the first time.
“He also expressed his willingness to seek refuge in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society,” KCNA said, adding that a government investigation was still ongoing.
July’s incident came as relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points ever, with diplomacy stalled and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for increased weapons development, including of tactical nuclear warheads.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Command said North Korea had “responded” to efforts to discuss the case.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed at the time that contact had been made with the North Koreans, adding he still had no idea where King was or in what condition.
The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a treaty, and most of the border between them is heavily fortified.
But at the JSA, the frontier is marked only by a low concrete divider and is relatively easy to cross, despite the presence of soldiers on both sides.
Pyongyang has a long history of detaining Americans and using them as bargaining chips in bilateral negotiations. — AFP