UN Command Says American Is Being Held In North Korea After Crossing Border

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Kay Smythe News and Commentary Writer
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An American soldier was detained in North Korea after allegedly crossing through its southern border without authorization, United Nations Command said Tuesday morning.

Local media has identified the soldier as Private 2nd Class Travis King. He was part of a Joint Security Area (JSA) orientation tour, and crossed the Military Demarcation Line into North Korea without authorization, according to a Tuesday morning tweet from UN Command. The individual is currently in the custody of the troubled nation, with efforts being made by both North Korea and UN Command to resolve the incident, the post continued.

The soldier had previously been held on assault charges in a South Korean prison but was recently released, according to the Associated Press (AP). He is currently facing military disciplinary actions back in the U.S., the outlet reported. Two U.S. officials confirmed the individual was scheduled on a recent flight back to the U.S. but that he did not get on the plane, The Washington Post reported.

The soldier had been touring the village of Panmunjom in South Korea and crossed over the border, according to AP. “This was a deliberate decision on part of the service member to cross,” one of the unnamed officials reportedly told the Post.

“We are aware of reports from the Department of Defense that a U.S. service member willfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement, adding that “we continue to remain in touch with counterparts at the Department of Defense to provide all appropriate assistance.”

The area is filled with landmines and surrounded by an electric and barbed wire fence, as well as security cameras and 24-hour armed guards, the BBC reported. Very few people choose to enter or exit North Korea through the DMZ due to the high-level threat of death for those who do, according to the outlet.

The incident occurred just as a nuclear-powered submarine arrived in the South Korea naval base in Busan, NBC News reported. Tensions between North Korea and the U.S. are said to be heightened following the death of a detained American college student Otto Warmbier in 2017. (RELATED: Kim Jong-Un Has Apparently Banned North Korean Women From Sharing His Daughter’s Name)

Though Warmbier was returned to the U.S. prior to his death, he is believed to have been horrifically abused while in North Korea, and died days after his return. North Korean officials said their nation was the “biggest victim” in the situation.

This story has been updated with a statement from the State Department and the soldier’s identity, according to local media reports.