SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea announced its decision on Wednesday to expel a U.S. soldier who had crossed the heavily armed border between the Koreas in July.
King had been serving in South Korea when he unexpectedly sprinted into North Korea while on a civilian tour of a border village on July 18. This incident marked the first confirmed detention of an American in North Korea in nearly five years.
Notably, at the time of crossing the border, King was originally scheduled to head to Fort Bliss, Texas, after being released from prison in South Korea due to an assault conviction.
On Wednesday, the state news agency reported that King had confessed to illegally entering the North because he was dissatisfied with the “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” that he claimed to have experienced within the U.S. Army. Additionally, he expressed disillusionment with the perceived inequality within U.S. society.
It is important to note that similar statements have previously been attributed to King, however, their authenticity cannot be verified.
In an official statement, the relevant North Korean organization announced its decision to expel Travis King, referring to him as “a soldier of the U.S. Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK,” using the initials of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
As of now, there has been no immediate comment from the White House or the State Department in response to this report.
Following weeks of silence, North Korea confirmed in August that it had detained 23-year-old King and had initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding his border crossing.
U.S. Soldier Detained in South Korea: Concerns for his Well-Being
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, the soldier’s mother, Claudine Gates, expressed her worry and shared her belief that her son would have numerous reasons to want to return home to America. With family ties and strong connections in his home country, it is difficult for her to fathom why he would choose to remain in Korea.
The exact method by which the detained soldier might be expelled from North Korea remains unknown at this time. In previous cases, an official envoy was sent to retrieve captive Americans. This occurred in 2017 when Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was released while in a coma and tragically died shortly thereafter, was deported from North Korea.
Notably, Bill Richardson—a prominent figure who served as an unofficial diplomatic troubleshooter across multiple presidential administrations—once traveled to North Korea in 2007 to recover the remains of servicemembers who lost their lives during the Korean War. His mission demonstrated the complexity and sensitivity surrounding interactions with North Korea.
According to U.S. officials, the detained soldier has been declared Absent Without Leave (AWOL), a serious offense that can result in various punishments. These penalties range from time served in a military prison to loss of pay, or even dishonorable discharge. The severity of punishment is determined by factors such as the duration of absence and whether the service member returned voluntarily or was apprehended.
The safety and well-being of the detained soldier remain a top priority for officials. Efforts are underway to ensure his safe return to his family in the United States. Further details regarding the situation will be provided as they become available.