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North Korea Confirms Custody of Missing U.S. Soldier, Claims He Fled American Racism

The communist government of North Korea published a report through state media on Wednesday confirming the presence of American Private 2nd Class Travis King in the country and claiming he had illegally crossed into it to flee racism.

King disappeared on July 18 while on a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. Witnesses say King erupted and laughter and ran across the border, where soldiers appeared to apprehend him. He has not been heard from since and North Korean authorities had not publicly confirmed his status in the country until Wednesday.

Prior to his disappearance, King had faced legal woes in South Korea following altercations with locals, according to court documents. South Korean authorities had escorted him to Incheon Airport on July 18 for a flight to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he reportedly faced more disciplinary action and a potential dismissal from the U.S. military. After escorts left him at the gate, King reportedly purchased a ticket for a tour of the DMZ and fled into North Korea.

The bizarre incident – which the Pentagon repeatedly insisted it had not planned and had no knowledge of before it occurred – happened at a point of heightened tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. A week prior, dictator Kim Jong-un had debuted a new, illegal intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) model, the “Hwasong-18,” that United Nations authorities warned could attack nearly every corner of the planet. On the day King disappeared, conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol toured an American nuclear submarine, the USS Kentucky, and threatened to “end” the Kim dynasty if Pyongyang staged a nuclear attack.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the communist regime’s flagship media, published a short report on Wednesday naming Travis King as the man who illegally crossed into the country on July 18.

“At 15:30 on July 18, King, who accompanied tourists to the joint security area of Panmunjom, came to be kept under control by soldiers of the Korean People’s Army on duty,” KCNA narrated, “as he deliberately intruded into the area of the DPRK [North Korea] side between the room for the DPRK-U.S. military contacts and the rest room of security officers along the Military Demarcation Line.”

“According to an investigation by a relevant organ of the DPRK, Travis King admitted that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK,” the report continued. “During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”

KCNA claimed that King did not want to return to “the unequal American society” and sought refugee status in North Korea “or a third country.”

While United Nations Command, the entity that controls the DMZ, had previously confirmed King’s presence in North Korea, the government itself had not previously mentioned King publicly at all. The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported on Wednesday that a Pentagon spokesperson responded to a request for comment by stating that the Department of Defense “cannot verify these alleged comments,” offering no more details.

“The department’s priority is to bring Pvt. King home, and we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome,” the spokesperson said.

Korea JoongAng Daily, a South Korean newspaper, observed on Wednesday that the U.N. Security Council is scheduled to host a meeting on Thursday regarding North Korea’s atrocious human rights record. North Korea, a communist totalitarian state dominated by the same family for over 70 years, is one of the world’s most prolific human rights abusers, maintaining a long record of starving, torturing, executing, and forcing tens of thousands into destitute political prison camps if suspected of being political dissidents or Christians. JoongAng suspected that North Korean diplomats at the U.N. could use the alleged “racial discrimination” King claims to have faced to “deflect attention from its abuses.”

King’s family, which has consistently expressed confusion and terror at the situation surrounding the American soldier, issued a statement urging North Korea to “treat him humanely.”

“Ms. [Claudine] Gates [King’s mother] is aware of today’s ‘report” from KCNA. DPRK authorities are responsible for #TravisKing’s well-being, and she continues to appeal to them to treat him humanely,” a statement published by spokesman Jonathan Franks read. “She’s a mom worried about her son and would be grateful for a phone call from him. Lastly, she has been in touch with the Army this evening and appreciates DoD’s statement that it remains focused on bringing Travis home.”

King, believed to be 23 years old, is the first American confirmed to be in North Korean custody since 2018, when the administration of President Donald Trump secured the release of the last three Americans imprisoned there. Concerns for King are high given the context of the death of another American imprisoned by North Korea, 22-year-old tourist Otto Warmbier, arrested for allegedly defacing a communist propaganda poster. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp and tortured brutally for a prolonged period of time. When released in 2017, following negotiations with the Trump administration, he appeared to be in a coma and on the brink of death. He died shortly after arriving in the United States.

Unlike Warmbier, who entered North Korea legally with a communist tour group (“Young Pioneer Tours”), King was on a tour of a sector of South Korea and did not have authorization to enter. The KCNA report did not accuse King, however, of any acts of disrespect towards the Kim family or expressions of opinions contrary to the iron-fisted rule of the communist regime. On the contrary, the KCNA report emphasized King’s alleged distaste for the United States, indicating that Pyongyang sees the potential of using King as a propaganda tool. Given the secretive nature of the regime and the fact that no one outside of North Korea has seen King alive since July 18, it is impossible to prove KCNA’s claims that he crossed into the country to flee American racism or that he harbors and ill feelings towards his own country.

King’s record in South Korea does indicate that he had struggled to adapt to that country. Prior to being escorted to the flight to Texas that he missed, King served almost two months in prison in South Korea.

“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 news site NK News, which focuses on North Korean issues but is not based there, reported in July. NK News claimed to obtain court documents that detailed King of assaulting South Koreans, shouting “‘fuck Korean, fuck Korean army, fuck Korean police’” in public, and kicking a police car.


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