American soldier back in US after fleeing to North Korea

AFP , Thursday 28 Sep 2023

American soldier Travis King has returned to the United States after being released by North Korea and is undergoing evaluation at a military medical facility, officials said Thursday.

Travis King
File photo: A TV screen shows a file image of American soldier Travis King during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on Aug. 16, 2023. The American soldier who sprinted into North Korea across the heavily fortified border between the Koreas two months ago arrived back in the U.S. early Thursday, Sept. 28, video appeared to show. AP


King -- who US officials previously said is in "good health" -- is at the Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, a usual stop for recently freed detainees, including basketball star Brittney Griner and "Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina.

"The Army's focus right now is on ensuring the soldier's well-being and privacy. His status will be addressed at a later time by the chain of command," spokesman Bryce Dubee told AFP.

After a drunken bar fight and a stay in South Korean jail, Private Second Class King was meant to be flown back to Texas in July.

But instead of travelling to Fort Bliss for disciplinary hearings, he snuck away, joined a Demilitarized Zone sightseeing trip and slipped over the massively fortified border where he was detained by the communist authorities.

Pyongyang confirmed it was holding him, saying last month that King had defected to North Korea to escape "mistreatment and racial discrimination in the US Army."

But after completing its investigation, Pyongyang has "decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the US Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic," the Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday, abbreviating the North's official name.

King's border crossing came with relations between the two Koreas at a low point, with diplomacy stalled and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for increased weapons development, including tactical nuclear warheads.

The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice, not a treaty.

One of the last US citizens to be detained by the North was student Otto Warmbier, who was held for a year and a half before being released in a coma to the United States. He died six days later.

Around half a dozen American soldiers made rare defections to the North after the Korean War and were used for the country's propaganda.

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