New details released about U.S. soldier who fled to North Korea

Travis King (Facebook)

Muri Assunção
New York Daily News

An American soldier who’s believed to be detained by North Korean authorities after crossing the Military Demarcation Line on Tuesday had just been released from a South Korean prison and was facing disciplinary action for assault, U.S. officials said.

Private 2nd Class Travis King, 23, had served nearly two months in a South Korean prison before fleeing over the border. He is now the first American detained in North Korea in nearly five years.

Early on Tuesday, the U.S.-led United Nations Command said in a statement that “a U.S. National” had “crossed, without authorization, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

The American soldier wasn’t immediately identified. But according to two U.S. officials, that soldier was King.

King had been released from prison on July 10 after serving his time on assault changes. The details of those charges have been not released.

He was being escorted to the airport on Monday to go back to the U.S., where he could have faced further disciplinary actions, including discharge from the service. But instead of getting on the plane, he managed to escape and later join a Joint Security Area tour. He then ran across the North Korean border Tuesday afternoon.

The Joint Security Area is a portion of the Korean Demilitarized Zone where military personnel from both North and South Korea can stand face-to-face. It’s defined by the United Nations Command “as one of the most critical locations on the Korean Peninsula.”

Also referred to as Panmunjom, the Joint Security Area is located in the 152-mile-long demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, just 30 miles north of Seoul.

The area has been jointly overseen by North Korea and the UN command — whose mandate is “to restore international peace and security in the area” — since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Tuesday that a U.S. service member was likely in North Korean custody.

“We’re closely monitoring and investigating the situation and working to notify the soldier’s next of kin,” Austin said, without naming King. “This will develop in the next several days and hours, and we’ll keep you posted,” he added.

The incident took place amid increasing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

United Nations Command officials said they are currently working with the Korean People’s Army of North Korea “to resolve this incident.”

Early on Tuesday, the American nuclear submarine USS Kentucky arrived at the Busan Naval Base in South Korea, in a move designed to demonstrate “the flexibility, survivability, readiness, resolve and capability of the U.S. Navy submarine forces,” U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement.

“This port visit to Busan reflects the United States’ ironclad commitment to the Republic of Korea for our extended deterrence guarantee, and complements the many exercises, training, operations and the other military cooperation activities conducted by strategic forces to ensure they are available and ready to operate around the globe at any time,” the statement added.

With News Wire Services

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