The U.S. soldier who crossed into North Korea is in American custody, according to two U.S. officials, hours after the country announced it planned to expel him.
Pvt. Travis King was transferred to U.S. custody in China, according one official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss King’s status ahead of the U.S. announcement.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday that authorities have finished their questioning of King.
King, who had served in South Korea, sprinted into North Korea through the heavily armed border between the Koreas while on a civilian tour of a border village on July 18, becoming the first American confirmed to be detained in the North in nearly five years.
At the time he crossed the border, King was supposed to be heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, following his release from prison in South Korea on an assault conviction.
On Wednesday, the state news agency said that King confessed to illegally entering the North because he harbored “ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” within the U.S. Army and was “disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society.”
It has attributed similar comments to King before, and verifying their authenticity is impossible.
“The relevant organ of the DPRK 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 KCNA said, using the initials of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Following weeks of silence, North Korea confirmed in August that it had detained King and was questioning the circumstances surrounding his border crossing.
At the time, North Korean state media then made similar claims about King’s supposed frustrations with the U.S. Army and American society and also said he expressed a willingness to seek refuge in North Korea or a third country.
In an interview last month with The Associated Press, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said her son had “so many reasons” to want to come home.
“I just can’t see him ever wanting to just stay in Korea when he has family in America. He has so many reasons to come home,” she said.
A New Zealand tourist remembers the moment an American soldier ran across the heavily-fortified border between South Korea and North Korea.
King, 23, was among about 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea. U.S. officials had expressed concern about King’s well-being, citing the North’s harsh treatment of some American detainees in the past.
U.S. officials have said that King has been declared AWOL, which can be punished by time in the brig, forfeiture of pay or dishonorable discharge with the severity based on the amount of time away and whether the service member was apprehended or returned on their own.
Unauthorized crossings across the Koreas’ heavily fortified border are extremely rare. The few Americans who crossed into North Korea in the past include soldiers, missionaries, human rights advocates or those simply curious about one of the world’s most cloistered societies.
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