North Korea will expel the U.S. Army soldier who bolted across the border from South Korea in July, but didn’t give any indication on how it would arrange his return.
“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,” the official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday, referring to North Korea by its formal name.
KCNA issued a 120-word dispatch that didn’t provide information on King’s whereabouts or a plan for sending him back. The King case is the first unauthorized border crossing by an American during President Joe Biden’s term, as his administration looks at ways to engage with Pyongyang at high levels after Kim Jong Un’s regime shunned repeated requests for talks.
“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,” KCNA said.
King, 23, a cavalry scout from Wisconsin, has been in the army since January 2021. He’d been jailed for nearly two months in South Korea for assault and was set to fly to Texas, where he faced expulsion from the military.
But instead he left the airport and joined a tour to the Joint Security Area in the Panmunjom truce village, where he ran across the border and was later whisked away in a van surrounded by North Korean military personnel.
In August, North Korea said King was seeking refuge there because of unfair treatment in the army, making its first statement regarding the episode that has been a concern for the Biden administration.
King was probably held in Pyongyang for questioning and to determine whether he could be of value to North Korea or a liability.
Since there are no formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Pyongyang, Sweden has represented U.S. interests in North Korea. Most diplomats from major democracies with embassies in Pyongyang left after the country sealed its borders at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
About 20 Americans have been detained by North Korea since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War and Pyongyang has used many of them for propaganda purposes.
North Korea has often handed over the Americans it has detained to high-level delegations sent to the isolated country to arrange their return.
In a case that rattled relations, Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student on a group tour in January 2016, was seized by North Korean authorities and accused of trying to steal a propaganda poster. He was initially sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but was returned to the U.S. in June 2017 in a comatose state — brain dead, blind and deaf. He died days later.
The last case of an American detained in North Korea was about five years ago when Bruce Lowrance was held for an illegal border crossing. Pyongyang made just one mention of him in a three-sentence dispatch disseminated by state media when he was deported about a month after his detention.
North Korea appears from this week to be allowing regular entry for foreigners for the first time since it shut its borders at the start of the pandemic in early 2020, opening up a source of revenue that once provided the country with hard currency.
—With assistance from Seyoon Kim.
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