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American Solider Reportedly Detained by North Korea After Fleeing Disciplinary Action

'One of our service members who was on a tour, willfully and without authorization, crossed the military demarcation line,' said Defense Secretary

North Korea has detained an American soldier who reportedly crossed the inter-Korean border amid pending disciplinary action.

The soldier, a member of the Army who has not been publicly identified, “willfully” crossed the Military Demarcation Line while on an orientation tour of the Joint Security Area at the border of North and South Korea.  

We’re very early in this event, and so there’s a lot that we’re still trying to learn,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a news briefing on July 18. “What we do know is that one of our service members who was on a tour, willfully and without authorization, crossed the military demarcation line. We believe that he is in [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] custody. And so we’re closely monitoring and investigating the situation and working to notify the soldier’s next of kin and engaging to address this incident.

“In terms of my concerns, I’m absolutely foremost concerned about the welfare of our troop,” Austin added. “And so we will remain focused on this, and again, this will develop in the next several days and hours and we’ll keep you posted.”

A South Korean news outlet initially identified the soldier as Private Second Class Travis King but later deleted the name from its coverage, per Reuters

Two US officials also identified the soldier as Travis King while speaking to AP News on the condition of anonymity. 

King “had just been released from a South Korean prison where he’d been held on assault charges and was facing additional military disciplinary actions in the United States,” according to the outlet. “King, who’s in his early 20s, was escorted to the airport to be returned to Fort Bliss, Texas, but instead of getting on the plane he left and joined a tour of the Korean border village of Panmunjom, where he ran across the border.”

The United Nations Command, which oversees operations at the Joint Security Area, posted a statement to Twitter saying a “U.S. National” crossed the Military Demarcation Line into North Korea “without authorization.” 

“We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident,” wrote the UN Command. 

According to The Week, the American soldier is the “first known American to be taken captive in North Korea since Bruce Byron Lowrance​ illegally entered the country from China in 2018, and ended up being detained for a month.”

“The most high-profile American captive of North Korea was likely Otto Warmbier, who was arrested in Pyongyang in 2016 and accused of stealing a propaganda poster,” noted The Week. “He was held in North Korea for 17 months before being flown back to the United States in a coma, where he died days later.”

North Korea and the United States do not have formal diplomatic relations according to the State Department. Instead, the US works with the Swedish Embassy in North Korea, which provides limited consular services to Americans.

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