Pvt. Travis King, the American soldier who dashed across the border from South Korea and disappeared on July 18, is in U.S. custody in Texas, according to defense officials.
North Korea said it had finished interrogating the 23-year-old soldier and planned to expel him earlier on Wednesday, according to a translation of state-run media KCNA. King was transferred into custody in China, one U.S. official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the official announcement, and will arrive at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas overnight, according to the second official.
The Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed King’s release in an emailed statement Wednesday.
“U.S. officials have secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We appreciate the hard work of personnel in the Army, United States Forces Korea, and across the Department of Defense, along with our State department colleagues, to bring Private King back to the United States, and we thank the governments of Sweden and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for their assistance,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said. (RELATED: US Spy Aircraft Fled After North Korea Scrambled Jets, Kim Jong Un’s Sister Says)
Sweden facilitates communication between the U.S. and North Korea because Washington does not have official diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, according to the State Department. Weeks of “intense diplomacy” preceded King’s release, U.S. officials told CNN.
King took a US military flight and landed at Kelly Field at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday morning, CNN reported, citing a defense official.
King crossed the border through the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea into the communist country “willfully and without authorization” when he was slated to be flying back to the U.S. to face disciplinary action, U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials said King “was very happy to be on his way home” despite earlier reports of dissatisfaction with race relations in the U.S., amplified by North Korean media, according to CNN.
Pyongyang handed King over to Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador in Beijing, and a defense attache on the Chinese side of a bridge connecting North Korea and China on Wednesday, CNN reported. Beijing did not play a “mediating role,” a U.S. official told the outlet.
“The investigation into Travis King, a soldier of the U.S. Army who was detained after illegally intruding into the territory of the DPRK in the joint security area of Panmunjom on July 18, has been finished,” KCNA reported Wednesday.
“According to the investigation by a relevant organ of the DPRK, Travis King confessed that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. army and was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society,” the report continued.
North Korea “decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the U.S. Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic,” the statement concluded.
Peace Through Strength
The ROK & U.S. commemorated the 75th anniversary of the founding of S. Korea’s armed forces near Seongnam’s Seoul Air Base (K-16), today.
📷 Carrie Castillo
🔎 https://t.co/0HsAYQ5fsa@President_KR | @CDRUNCCFCUSFK | @DeptofDefense pic.twitter.com/aVS0AQi88y
— U.S. Forces Korea (@USForcesKorea) September 26, 2023
King was released from a South Korean jail on July 10 after spending 48 days in a local detention facility for an October incident where he resisted law enforcement, damaged public property and shouted vulgarities about South Korea and the Korean military, according to NBC News and other media reports, citing government officials and legal documents.
U.S. officials said he was slated to fly home to Fort Bliss for administrative separation when he exited the Seoul airports and joined a tour of the Joint Security Area dividing the two countries. From there, he dashed across the border where witnesses saw him swept into a North Korean guard vehicle.
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