The U.S. government announced on Wednesday that it had secured the custody of U.S. soldier Private 2nd Class Travis King, who had been expelled from North Korea.
King’s handover comes two months after he had crossed the border from the Joint Security Area, also known as Panmunjom, on July 18.
“U.S. officials have secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” U.S. Department of Defense press secretary, Brigadier General Pat Ryder, stated in a statement that was released on Wednesday. “We appreciate the hard work of personnel in the Army, United States Forces Korea, and across the Department of Defense, along with our State Department colleagues, to bring Private King back to the United States, and we thank the governments of Sweden and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for their assistance.”
According to the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson, Matthew Miller, King was handed over to the U.S. Ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns, at Dandong, China, which borders North Korea where picked him up.
“He then boarded a State Department OpMed plane and flew from Dandong China to Shenyang China, and then on from Shenyang to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea where he was transferred to the Department of Defense,” Miller said.
The U.S. government expressed gratitude for the Swedish government’s efforts in securing King’s release.
However, the State Department spokesman was cautious about speculating on whether King’s release would lead to a breakthrough in U.S.-North Korea diplomatic relations.
“I would not want to speculate on any motivations on the North Korean side, and I don’t know that I would take from this that it heralds some breakthrough in diplomatic relations,” Miller said.
While emphasizing that the U.S. has always been open to talks with North Korea, which had been rejected in the past, Miller stated that the U.S. had once again attempted to reach out to North Korea, but these efforts were met with no success.
Regarding China’s role in King’s transfer, it was described as limited to “facilitating transit,” but the U.S. government expressed gratitude to the Chinese government for their assistance.
North Korea had announced King’s expulsion, citing his illegal entry into the country on Wednesday.
The state media, Korean Central News Agency, reported that King had confessed to defecting to North Korea due to what he described as inhumane treatment and racism in the U.S. military, as well as social injustice in American society.
However, specific details regarding the reasons behind King’s expulsion were not provided, other than it being in accordance with North Korean laws.
King had crossed the border in July, breaking away from a group tour at the Joint Security Area.
The border between North and South Korea in the JSA is separated by low concrete blocks.
He is considered the first U.S. soldier to defect to North Korea and then be expelled.
Not counting King, there have been an estimated six U.S. soldiers who have illegally crossed into North Korea. The first U.S. soldier to defect was Larry Abshier in May 1962.
Before returning to the United States, King was supposed to head to Fort Worth, Texas, where he would have faced military discipline for several misconducts he had committed in South Korea.
These included an assault on a Korean national on Sept. 25 and damaging a patrol vehicle on Oct. 8. King had spent 48 days in a South Korean prison, with his release occurring on July 10, as he had failed to pay the 5 million won ($3,940) fine for damaging the back door of a police patrol vehicle.
BY LEE HO-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]