US Soldier Who Crossed Into North Korea Back in US Custody

Travis King's fate is not yet clear
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 27, 2023 6:38 AM CDT
North Korea: We're Expelling US Soldier
A TV screen shows a file image of American soldier Travis King during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on Aug. 16, 2023.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
UPDATE Sep 27, 2023 6:38 AM CDT

The US soldier who sprinted into North Korea across the heavily fortified border between the Koreas two months ago was released into American custody Wednesday, according to two officials. Earlier, North Korea said it would expel Pvt. Travis King—an announcement that surprised some observers who'd expected the North to drag out his detention in the hopes of squeezing concessions from Washington at a time of high tensions between the rivals. King's expulsion almost certainly doesn't end his troubles or ensure the sort of celebratory homecoming that has accompanied the releases of other detained Americans, reports the AP.

Sep 27, 2023 6:38 AM CDT

There remain unanswered questions about the episode, including why King went to North Korea in the first place. His fate also remains uncertain, having been declared AWOL by the US government. That can mean punishment by time in military jail, forfeiture of pay, or a dishonorable discharge. King was transferred to American custody in China, according to one of the officials. The two US officials spoke on condition of anonymity. King, who'd served in South Korea, ran into North Korea 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 North's official Korean Central News Agency reported that authorities had finished their questioning of King. It said that he confessed to illegally entering the North because he harbored "ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination" within the US Army and was "disillusioned about the unequal US society." It has attributed similar comments to King before, and verifying their authenticity is impossible. US officials had expressed concern about King's well-being, citing the North's harsh treatment of some American detainees in the past.

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North Korea's decision to release King after 71 days appears relatively quick by the country's standards, especially considering the tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over the North's growing nuclear weapons and missile program and the United States' expanding military exercises with South Korea. In the end, the North apparently concluded that King simply wasn't worth keeping, possibly because of the cost of providing him food and accommodations and assigning him guards and translators when he was never to be a meaningful source of US military intelligence, said Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea's Sejong Institute. Captive Americans have been flown to China previously. In other cases, an envoy has been sent to retrieve them. (Read more Travis King stories.)

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