Wednesday, April 17, 2024

U.S. soldier absent without leave in North Korea, says Pentagon

(BBC News) The Pentagon says it considers army private Travis King to be “absent without leave” in North Korea after he crossed the border during a tour.

Officials admitted they had no idea of his condition or where he was being held.

Earlier, the White House said the U.S. had tried to contact Pyongyang through “multiple channels” but had seen no response.

PV2 King dashed across the heavily fortified border area on Tuesday.

It is unclear if he has defected or hopes to return.

Washington-based news website the Messenger said it had seen an internal U.S. government report that described King’s actions when he crossed the border.

It quoted the report as saying King sprinted up to a building on the North Korean side.

He is said to have banged vigorously on the door, and when there was no answer, he ran around the back and got into a van. He was then immediately driven off, according to the website.

North Korea’s relations with the U.S. have plummeted in recent years, as it has tested dozens of increasingly powerful missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

On its travel advisory, the U.S. tells its citizens not to travel to North Korea – one of the world’s most isolated states – due to “the continuing serious risk of arrest,” and the “critical threat of wrongful detention.”

King had been due to fly back to the U.S. from South Korea, where he was based, to face disciplinary action.

But the 23-year-old did not board the plane when he parted ways with his military escorts at Incheon Airport near Seoul on Tuesday, and instead embarked on an apparently pre-booked tour to the border. The details of how he managed to do that are still unclear.

The demilitarised zone (DMZ) at the border has separated the two countries since the Korean War in the 1950s, in which the U.S. backed the South.

The war ended with an armistice, meaning that the two sides are still technically at war. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops remain in the South.

As the U.S. and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations, the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang tends to negotiate on behalf of the U.S. Currently, its diplomatic staff are not in the country, because of the ongoing border closure since the pandemic.

Both the UN Command that runs the border area, and the South Korean military have direct phone lines to the North Korean military, that they call daily to check in, though the North Koreans do not always pick up.

In recent years, a number of American citizens who illegally entered North Korea – excluding those convicted of criminal activity there – have been released within six months.


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