North Korea claims that an American soldier who fled across the heavily armed border from the South is fleeing “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” in the US military.
The regime said in its first public acknowledgment that Private 2nd Class Travis King entered the North on July 18 while on a tour of a Korean border village and that the 23-year-old had expressed “disillusionment” with US society.
“During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harboured ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US army,” the state-run news agency KCNA said on Wednesday, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
“He also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society.”
According to KCNA, King was “kept under control” by soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army.
Despite the fact that King’s statements could not be independently verified, his detention in North Korea—the first involving an American in nearly five years—is a propaganda coup for the regime.
KCNA, the official news agency of the North Korean dictatorship, issues statements in support of its claim that the United States is a despicable foe intent on invading the North.
“King’s crossing into North Korea provided the Kim regime an opportunity in several ways, the first of which is, of course, the potential for negotiations with the US over King’s release,” said Soo Kim, an expert with Virginia-based consultancy LMI and a former CIA analyst.
“It’s also an opportunity for the regime propaganda to do its thing—to spin the situation in such a way as to criticize the US and express Pyongyang’s deep-rooted hostility towards Washington.”
On Tuesday, the Pentagon said it could not verify King’s alleged comments.
“We remain focused on his safe return,” a Pentagon spokesperson said. “The department’s priority is to bring Private King home, and we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome.”
North Korea stated that it would continue its investigation into King.
Analysts believe North Korea could use King’s case to extract concessions from the United States, such as tying his release to a reduction in U.S. military activities with South Korea. The Korean Peninsula was experiencing heightened tensions when King crossed the border.
Since the beginning of 2022, North Korea has conducted over one hundred weapons tests, prompting the United States to increase its military exercises with South Korea. The North Korean government views the joint exercises as invasion rehearsals.
King’s Legal Troubles and Court Verdict in South Korea
King faced two assault charges in South Korea when he crossed the demilitarized zone, the border that has divided the two Koreas since the end of their 1950–1953 war.
According to court documents, he pleaded guilty to one count of assault and one count of destroying public property for damaging a police car during a profanity-laced rant against Koreans.
King had completed a period of military detention in South Korea and was scheduled to face additional disciplinary measures at Fort Bliss, Texas, when he fled from Incheon international airport, where he had been taken to catch his flight home.
The next day, he went on a civilian tour of the DMZ, where he ran across the line separating North and South Korea, despite attempts by South Korean and US guards to stop him.
According to US officials, King, who chose to serve his time at a labour camp rather than pay a fine of about $4,000, has been declared absent without leave (AWOL).
The punishment can range from brig confinement to pay forfeiture to dishonourable discharge, depending on how long the abscondee was gone and whether they were apprehended or returned on their own.
North Korea has previously detained a number of Americans on anti-state, espionage, and other charges. However, no other Americans have been detained since the North expelled Bruce Byron Lowrance in 2018.
During the Cold War, a small number of US soldiers who fled to North Korea later appeared in the regime’s propaganda films.
Source: The Guardian