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Report: North Korea Says It Is ‘Investigating’ Border-Crossing U.S. Soldier Travis King

ABC News reported Tuesday that North Korea recently recognized the crossing of U.S. soldier Travis King into its territory and claimed the “incident is under investigation.”

ABC News and the local Milwaukee station TMJ4, servicing the region in Wisconsin King is from, cited Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder as confirming in a press conference on Tuesday that the communist North Korean regime did recognize King’s existence in communications with the United Nations. Ryder did not mention, however, the existence of any North Korean investigation or any other details of the conversation in his remarks. Both outlets used the word “investigating” to describe North Korea’s response to King’s presence in the country.

Private 2nd Class Travis King, believed to be 23, disappeared on July 18 after taking a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea and abruptly running into the North. American military officials emphasized in the aftermath of the incident that King “willfully and without authorization” entered North Korea, meaning he was not conducting any official U.S. government work when doing so.

“We believe that he is in DPRK custody, and so we are closely monitoring and investigating the situation and working to notify the soldier’s next of kin and engaging to address this incident,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last month.

No North Korean government officials have mentioned Travis King publicly, nor has North Korean state media reported on his entry into the country. U.N. Command, which maintains communications with the regime of dictator Kim Jong-un, confirmed that North Korea was responding to its attempts to discuss the matter on July 24.

“The conversation has commenced with the KPA through the mechanisms of the Armistice agreement,” U.N. Command Lieutenant General Andrew Harrison told reporters. “I can’t say anything that could prejudice that process. … [t]he primary concern for us is Private King’s welfare.”

In contrast, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time that Pyongyang had ignored attempts to discuss King.

Ryder, during a regular briefing on Tuesday, said he could offer no information regarding King’s status.

“I don’t have any updates on Private King’s status,” Ryder said. “What I will tell you is, as you’ve heard us say previously, United Nations Command did communicate or provide some communication via well-established communication channels through the Joint Security Agency.”

“I can confirm that the DPRK [North Korea] has responded to United Nations Command but I don’t have any substantial progress to read out. And so I’d refer you to the UN Command for any further details,” he added.

King reportedly had a history of erratic behavior before his disappearance. King served two months in a South Korean jail prior to begin released and scheduled to travel back to the United States in late July.

“Early in the morning on Oct. 8 last year, police arrested King in Seoul after receiving a report about him assaulting another person. He continued being ‘aggressive’ toward the victim and police officers and was detained in a patrol car,” the Korean news site NK News documented last month, citing court documents. King reportedly also engaged in an assault against South Korean police.

South Korean military police reportedly escorted King to Incheon International Airport following his release and left him there to wait for a flight to Texas. Instead of boarding the flight, King bought a ticket for a tour of the DMZ and took a bus to the border.

“This man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha,’ and just runs in between some buildings,” one of the members of King’s tour group told CBS News of the last moments King was seen alive. “I thought it was a bad joke at first, but when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted and things got crazy.”

While maintaining little communication with U.N. Command, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in remarks last month that Pyongyang had refused to discuss King with Washington at all.

“We have channels of communication. We have used them, and we made clear going back to early in this administration that we were prepared to have negotiations with North Korea on the nuclear program with no preconditions,” Blinken said. “We sent that message several times. Here is the response we got: one missile launch after another.”

King disappeared during a time of elevated tensions between North Korea and America, which remain technically at war since 1950 as neither side of the Korean War (America and South Korea on one side, and China and North Korea on the other) ever signed a peace treaty. Despite the ongoing war status, both sides signed an armistice agreement that ended active warfare in 1953. The communist regime of dictator Kim Jong-un celebrates the armistice as a “victory” and spent the past week staging concerts and a lavish parade in the capital to celebrate “Victory Day.”

The “Victory Day” festivities featured multiple displays of North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), including the latest model, the Hwasong-18, which North Korea test-fired during the week that King disappeared. The ICBMs are illegal under international law and sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, but Kim brazenly displayed them before representatives of two of the veto-wielding permanent members of the Council, China and Russia, last week.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and a Chinese delegation led by a senior Politburo member became the first high-level foreign dignitaries to visit North Korea since the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic began in 2020. Prior to their visit last week, the last such official of that caliber to visit North Korea was former American President Donald Trump, who crossed into North Korea in the border town where King disappeared in 2019.

The Russian and Chinese visitors were treated to a display of the Hwasong-18 models in last week’s “Victory Day” parade; Shoigu, according to North Korean state media, got to see them up close at a weapons exhibition in Pyongyang.

At the parade on Thursday, North Korean Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam warned Washington and Seoul that both would be destroyed in the event that they used nuclear weapons against North Korea.

“We solemnly declare that if they attempt military confrontation as now, the exercise of our state’s armed forces will go beyond the scope of the right to defence for the United States of America and the ‘ROK’ [Republic of Korea]’,” Kang said, according to state media coverage. “The U.S. imperialists have no room of choice of survival in case they use nuclear weapons against the DPRK.”

Shortly before the parade, Kang published a commentary through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) warning that the United States sending a nuclear-armed submarine this month to Busan, South Korea, “may fall under the conditions of the use of nuclear weapons specified in the DPRK [North Korea] law on the nuclear force policy.”

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