HomePoliticsU.S. soldier crosses border into North Korea ‘without authorization’

U.S. soldier crosses border into North Korea ‘without authorization’

A U.S. soldier crossed the border into North Korea without authorization on Tuesday and is now being held in North Korean custody, New York Times reports.

23-year-old Private Travis King, who joined the Army in January 2021, had just been released from a detention facility in South Korea, where he had been held on assault charges following an altercation with locals. He was meant to board a flight from Incheon International Airport in Seoul to Fort Bliss, Tex., where he would face disciplinary actions.

Instead, he left the terminal to join a group that was touring Joint Security Area (JSA), a section of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that is commonly known as Panmunjom. The military personnel who had escorted him through the airport had left him at customs because they did not have a ticket. According to ABC News, there was no reason to believe King wouldn’t board the plane.

Panmunjom is an uninhabited village in between the two Koreas famous for its blue huts. These buildings are where envoys between the two countries meet, and the central structure, known as T2, is the only spot where tourists can legally step onto North Korean soil, according to the Times. Tours of Panmunjom require approval from the United Nations Command. It is unclear how King was able to leave the airport and join the tour.

At the border, bystanders watched in shock as King suddenly rushed across. Unarmed soldiers were unable to catch him, and the last time he was seen, North Korean soldiers were taking him into custody. NK News reports that one tourist alleges they heard King laughing as he fled the border.

“To our right, we hear a loud HA-HA-HA and one guy from OUR GROUP that has been with us all day- runs in between two of the buildings and over to the other side!!” they wrote in a post on Facebook.

King’s mother told ABC that the Army told her the news on Tuesday morning. She said the last time she heard from him was “a few days ago,” saying that he would be returning to Fort Bliss soon.

“I can’t see Travis doing anything like that,” she said to ABC.

As of now, officials are still gathering more information. According to ABC, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a press conference on Tuesday, “We’re very early in this event and so there’s a lot that we’re still trying to learn. What we do know is that one of our service members who was on a tour willfully and without authorization crossed the military demarcation line. We believe that he is in DPRK custody. We’re closely monitoring and investigating the situation, and working to notify the soldier’s next of kin and engaging to address this incident.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also emphasized the need for more information before any action could be taken. “The White House, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and also the U.N. are all working together to ascertain more information and resolve this situation,” she said, according to ABC. “I don’t have more to share beyond that. We are looking into this.”

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