North Korea has publicly addressed the United States Army soldier who crossed the border from South Korea on July 18.
Private Travis King, the 23-year-old who enlisted in 2021, had been stationed in South Korea and was facing disciplinary action after being imprisoned on assault charges. King was scheduled to return to Fort Bliss in Texas for administrative separation actions because of his foreign conviction.
Instead, King joined a tour of the Military Demarcation Line and then fled to North Korea. According to a report from North Korea’s state media KCNA, authorities are investigating what prompted the soldier’s action.
“He also expressed his willingness to seek refuge in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society,” stated the report.
The report marks the first time that North Korea has acknowledged King is in its custody.
“His family have previously told US media that he had relayed experiencing racism in the army. They also said his mental health appeared to have declined after he spent time in a South Korean jail,” reports the BBC. “Pyongyang will most likely have relished the opportunity to highlight racism and other shortcomings in American society, especially given the international criticism it receives for human rights abuses.”
“It feels like I’m in a big nightmare,” Claudine Gates, King’s mother, told the media.
Without naming King, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the service member “willfully and without authorization” entered the country and was believed to be in the custody of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We’re closely monitoring and investigating the situation and working to notify the soldier’s next of kin and engaging to address this incident,” said Lloyd at a press conference on July 18.
“We remain focused on his safe return,” said Department of Defense spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Martin Meiners, per OANN on Aug. 16. “The Department’s priority is to bring Private King home, and that we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome.”
King had been accused of punching a man at a drinking club in Seoul, insulting the South Korean army, and damaging a police car in September 2022. He spent 47 days in jail on assault charges this year and was released on July 10, per Business Insider.
King has received the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Defense Service Medal and the Overseas Service Ribbon during his service. He was a cavalry scout at Camp Bonifas in northwestern South Korea near the Korean Demilitarized Zone.