July 15, 2024

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U.S. Army Private Travis King, who had crossed into North Korea in July, has been returned to American custody, according to two U.S. officials.

North Korea deports King: North Korea announced its decision to “expel” King, 23, after completing an investigation, and just hours before he was confirmed to be back in U.S. custody. According to North Korean state media, King allegedly admitted to illegally entering the country and cited reasons such as “ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”

U.S. officials said that King has been transferred to American custody through China, the Associated Press reported.

Crossing the line: King crossed the military demarcation line from South Korea into North Korea without authorization during a tour of the Joint Security Area inside the demilitarized zone on July 18. He attempted to enter a facility before he was taken away by North Korean guards.

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Prior assault allegations: Before his entry into North Korea, King had faced assault allegations in South Korea, where he spent nearly seven weeks in a detention facility and was due to be removed from the military. On the day he entered North Korea, King was supposed to board a flight to Texas. However, he reportedly left the airport on his own after being released by Army escorts at a security checkpoint.

Last month, North Korea stated that King sought refuge in their nation due to disillusionment with what he perceived as an “unequal U.S. society.”

Propaganda tool: U.S. officials had reached out to North Korea through various channels regarding King, but Pyongyang did not engage in diplomatic talks. The U.S. previously expressed concern that North Korea might use King as a propaganda tool or bargaining chip. However, King’s location, conditions of detention and health status were unclear during his time in North Korea.

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King family reaction: Jonathan Franks, a spokesperson for King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said in a statement: “Ms. Gates will be forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done. For the foreseeable future, the family asks for privacy and Ms. Gates does not intend to give any interviews.”

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