North Korea said Wednesday that it will expel a U.S. soldier who crossed into the country through the heavily armed border between the Koreas in July.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said that authorities have finished their questioning of Pvt. Travis King. It said that he confessed to illegally entering the North because he harboured “ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” within the U.S. Army and was “disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society.”
Verifying the authenticity of the comments attributed to King was not possible.
The agency did not say when authorities plan to expel King or to where.
King, who had served in South Korea, sprinted 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.
Anxious family awaits return
At the time he joined the civilian tour and crossed the border, he was supposed to be heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, following his release from prison in South Korea on an assault conviction.
Following weeks of silence, North Korea confirmed in August that it had detained King and was questioning the circumstances surrounding his border crossing.
In an interview last month with The Associated Press from her Wisconsin home, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said her son had “so many reasons” to want to come home.
“I’m not mad at you, Travis. I just want you to come home,” said Gates. “He has a whole life ahead of him. He’s still a young man. I just want my baby home.”
King, 23, was among about 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea.
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U.S. officials had expressed concern about King’s well-being, citing the North’s harsh treatment of some American detainees in the past.
U.S. officials have said that King has been declared AWOL, which can be punished by time in the brig, forfeiture of pay or dishonorable discharge with the severity based on the amount of time away and whether the service member was apprehended or returned on their own.
Unauthorized crossings across the Koreas’ heavily fortified border are extremely rare. The few Americans who crossed into North Korea in the past include soldiers, missionaries, human rights advocates or those simply curious about one of the world’s most cloistered societies.
It wasn’t immediately clear how King might be expelled. In some prior cases, an envoy has been sent to retrieve captive Americans. That happened in 2017 when North Korea deported Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was in a coma at the time of his release and later died.