North Korea said Wednesday that an American soldier crossed into its territory last month because of “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” in the U.S. Army.
The report by the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) marks the first public confirmation by Pyongyang that Pvt. 2nd Class Travis King, who bolted across the inter-Korean border during a group tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) on July 18, was in the regime’s custody.
According to the KCNA’s English-language report, King “expressed his willingness to seek refuge” in the North or another country during questioning.
“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,” the KCNA said, referring to the North by the acronym for its official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“He also expressed his willingness to seek refuge in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society,” the KCNA said.
The state media agency also said that King was “kept under control by soldiers of the Korean People’s Army” and that the North’s investigation into his “illegal” crossing is still ongoing.
The KCNA report comes just before the United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Thursday to discuss the human rights situation in North Korea for the first time since 2017 and could represent an effort by Pyongyang to deflect attention from its abuses to race-based discrimination in the United States.
But North Korea’s state propaganda, which takes pride in the alleged racial purity of its people, is also prone to using race-based insults against people the regime perceives as hostile to its interests.
In 2014, Pyongyang’s state media described then-U.S. President Barack Obama as a “dirty fellow” and “a crossbreed with unclear blood.” More recently, it referred to Julie Turner, the new U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights, as a “woman of uncertain origin and ethnicity.”
While the Pentagon could not confirm King’s intentions as relayed by Pyongyang’s state media, a spokesperson said the department’s priority “is to bring Private King home, and that we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome.”
The United Nations Command (UNC), which is responsible for maintaining the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, has engaged in talks with the North Korean military through an official channel at the JSA to try to secure King’s release, according to the force’s British deputy commander last month.
Prior to his apparent defection, King was accused of committing assault against a Korean national on Sept. 25 and also fined 5 million won ($3,940) for repeatedly kicking and damaging a back door of a police patrol vehicle in Seoul on Oct. 8.
He consequently served 50 days of hard labor in a Korean confinement facility and was released on July 10, a week before his scheduled flight to Fort Worth, Texas, to face further military discipline.
But just after his release from the Korean facility, King was able to confirm his spot on a tour to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the Korean Peninsula that included a visit to the JSA, which is jointly patrolled by soldiers from both the UNC and the North Korean military.
Despite being accompanied by U.S. and South Korean military escorts to Incheon International Airport on July 17, King managed to slip out of customs and checked into his DMZ tour the next day.
About an hour into the tour, King walked away from his group at Panmunjom and ran towards the North Korean side through a gap between U.S. and South Korean soldiers on guard.
UNC security chased King up to the end of conference row, which refers to the blue huts straddling the ground-level concrete boundary that delineates the military demarcation line, but he continued running north to Panmungak, the grey pavilion that dominates the North Korean side of the truce village.
King then ran to the back of another North Korean military building, where he entered a van and was driven out of the area by North Korean soldiers. He has not been seen since.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]