American soldier Travis King, who fled into North Korean territory last week, is the subject of ongoing discussions between the United Nations and North Korea. General Andrew Harrison, the deputy commander of the U.N. Command, confirmed on Monday that they had established communication lines at the Joint Security Area between North and South Korea to negotiate his return to the U.S. King’s wellbeing remains their top priority.
King, 23, from Wisconsin, had reportedly expressed his unwillingness to return to his post or America while serving in South Korea, raising suspicion of his possible defection to North Korea a year before it occurred. His action marks the first soldier defection to North Korea in decades. The details of his situation since he crossed the border remain unclear as North Korean officials have not responded to diplomatic overtures.
His previous behavior indicated problems.
According to the New York Post:
Weeks earlier, on Sept. 4, while serving at Camp Bonifas near the southern end of the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea, King skipped out on his daily formation and took off to a nearby city, ABC News reported.
King, an Army Private 2nd Class, was scheduled to return to the United States on Monday but managed to slip past his military escort and was seen wearing civilian clothes during a tour of the Joint Security Area inside the DMZ.
US officials said King had made a “deliberate decision” to enter North Korea, but have yet to explain how he managed to outsmart his handlers at Incheon International Airport — and make it all the way to the village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ the next day.
King, who reportedly shouted “ha ha ha” during his mad dash into North Korea, was heading to Fort Bliss after spending nearly two months at a South Korean detention center over the assault charge. He faced a dishonorable discharge from the Army over his conviction, a defense source said.
The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, expressed his concern for King’s welfare during his first public comment about him at the Aspen Security Forum. Officials acknowledge that King’s crossing into North Korea was deliberate, but they are uncertain about how he managed to evade detection at Incheon International Airport and reach the village of Panmunjom within the Demilitarized Zone. King, who was moving to Fort Bliss, Texas, was facing a dishonorable discharge from the Army over his conviction.
King’s family, especially his mother Claudine Gates, expressed their shock at the events and longed for his safe return. Despite ongoing discussions, North Korea has yet to publicly acknowledge King’s situation.