Phil Stewart et al., Reuters, September 27, 2023
Private Travis King, the U.S. soldier who ran into North Korea in July, is in U.S. custody and heading home after being expelled by North Korea into China, the United States said on Wednesday.
While details about the diplomacy that led to King’s transfer remained scarce, the development was a rare example of cooperation between the United States, North Korea and China. The State Department said King was expected to return to the United States later on Wednesday.
King, 23, made a sudden dash into North Korea from the South on July 18 while on a civilian tour of their heavily fortified border and was immediately taken into North Korean custody.
Washington declined to declare him a prisoner of war despite heated debate within the government. For its part, North Korea appears to have treated his case as one of illegal immigration.
North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said King told Pyongyang he entered North Korea illegally because he was disillusioned about unequal U.S. society.”
North Korea’s decision to expel King, published by KCNA, detailed the final results of an investigation into his border crossing. Last month, it said that he wanted refuge in North Korea or elsewhere because of maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. army.
The Swedish government, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic presence in the country, retrieved King in North Korea and brought him to China.
King’s uncle, Myron Gates, told ABC News in August that his nephew, who is Black, experienced racism during his military deployment, and that after he spent time in a South Korean jail, he did not sound like himself.
King, who joined the U.S. army in January 2021, faced two allegations of assault in South Korea. He pleaded guilty to one instance of assault and destroying public property for damaging a police car during a profanity-laced tirade against Koreans, according to court documents. He had been due to face more disciplinary measures when he arrived back in the United States.
King had finished serving military detention and was at the airport awaiting U.S. military transport to his home unit in the United States. Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran across despite attempts by South Korean and U.S. guards to stop him.