American officials, on Wednesday, revealed that US Army Pvt. 2nd Class Travis King is back in American custody after being expelled by the North Korean government.
On July 18, King escaped from an organized tour of the border town of Panmunjom and crossed into North Korea.
King was found guilty of “illegally intruding” into North Korea's territory after a 70-day probe, the communist nation said earlier on Wednesday.
According to North Korean media, King, 23, admitted to crossing the border quickly because he “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army and was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society.” The Pentagon stated on Wednesday that none of the statements made by King and ascribed to him by North Korea have been independently verified as authentic.
“The relevant agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea decided to expel Travis King, an American soldier who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, in accordance with the laws of the Republic,” a statement published on North Korea’s state-run KCNA news service stated.
The New York Times (NYT) noted that it was “unusual for North Korea to expel an American soldier who has expressed a wish to seek asylum there,” especially one who allegedly says the kinds of very useful things King reportedly told interrogators from.
“In the past, the country allowed American G.I.s who deserted to its side to live and even start families there. It often used them as propaganda tools, casting them as evil United States military officers in anti-American movies,” the NYT noted.
At least six American servicemen had entered North Korea since 1962, according to Korea Joongang Daily, and King was the first to be expelled by Pyongyang.
Others analysts questioned why North Korea did not use King as a negotiating tool, as it has with many other Americans who have fallen into its clutches, such as Otto Warmbier, the student who was wrongfully imprisoned by North Korea in 2016 and returned to his family a year and a half later in a coma from which he never recovered.
King was a wanted man by the United States when he crossed the border, according to Professor Yang Moo-jin of Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, who told CBS News that the DPRK likely found it too “difficult” to utilize King for propaganda. Yang speculated that King's defection may have received a “lukewarm response” from the U.S. administration, leading the regime to believe he was of little use as a negotiating chip.
Sejong Institute analyst Cheong Seong-chang told the Associated Press (AP) that North Korea decided King “simply wasn’t worth keeping, possibly because of the cost of providing him food and accommodation and assigning him guards and translators when he was never to be a meaningful source of U.S. military intelligence.”
King, who was on his way out of South Korea in July after serving two months in prison for assaulting two people and kicking a police car, will undoubtedly be upset to learn that he wasn't really much of a hostage to North Korea. At the Incheon airport in South Korea, King snuck off his trip back to Texas, joined a border tour group, and then rushed into North Korea.
King has been removed from North Korea and has been “transferred to US custody in China,” according to two American officials who spoke to the Associated Press on Wednesday.
“His fate remains uncertain, having been declared AWOL by the U.S. government. That can mean punishment by time in military jail, forfeiture of pay or a dishonorable discharge,” the AP reported.
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