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US Private 2nd Class Defects Into North Korea to Prison

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US Private 2nd Class Defects Into North Korea to Prison

An American soldier who had spent nearly two months in a South Korean prison defected across the heavily guarded border into North Korea and is now the first American held there in nearly five years.

Travis King, a Private 2nd Class, was sentenced on July 10 after being detained on assault-related allegations. He was being returned to Fort Bliss, Texas, on Monday, where he might have been subject to further military punishments or be dismissed from the service.

King, 23, was escorted as far as customs after being brought to the airport, according to officials. He then departed the airport, and joined a tour to the Korean border town of Panmunjom instead of boarding the aircraft.

On Tuesday afternoon, local time in South Korea, he bolted across the border into North Korea.

After informing King’s family of the occurrence, the US Army made his identity and a few other details public. However, because to the sensitivity of the situation, a number of U.S. officials gave further information under the condition of anonymity. According to the Associated Press, it is unclear how he arrived at the border or how he passed the time between leaving the airport on Monday and entering the country the following day.

An American soldier who had spent nearly two months in a South Korean prison defected across the heavily guarded border into North Korea

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the American service member was probably now in North Korean custody at a press conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday. Austin stated, “We’re closely monitoring and investigating the situation,” adding that his top priority was the safety of the unit. “We’ll keep you updated as this develops over the coming days and hours.”

King is a cavalry scout who enlisted in the army in January 2021, said Army spokesman Bryce Dubee. He was serving with the 1st Armored Division in Korea.

He is assumed to be in North Korean captivity, according to the American-led U.N. Command, which is seeking to resolve the situation with North Korean allies. State media in North Korea did not immediately report on the border crossing.

Although it is uncommon for Americans or South Koreans to defect to North Korea, more than 30,000 North Koreans have done so since the 1950–1953 Korean War to escape political repression and economic hardship.

An American soldier who had spent nearly two months in a South Korean prison defected across the heavily guarded border into North Korea

Since its establishment at the end of the Korean War, the U.N. Command and North Korea have shared management of Panmunjom, which is located inside the 248-kilometer-long (154-mile) Demilitarized Zone. There have periodically been instances of bloodshed and violence, but it has also frequently served as a location for negotiations and is a well-liked tourist destination.

Panmunjom attracts travellers from both sides who want to view the final frontier of the Cold War because of its blue houses perched on top of concrete slabs that serve as the dividing line. At Panmunjom, no civilians reside. Soldiers from North and South Korea engaged in combat within yards (metres) of one another as visitors on both sides took pictures.

Before the coronavirus epidemic, when South Korea limited gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19, tours to the village’s southern side allegedly drew some 100,000 tourists annually. Last year, the excursions fully resumed. Panmunjom was one of the border sites that underwent mine-clearing operations by North and South Korean army engineers in 2018 during a brief period of inter-Korean engagement. The Koreas promised to turn the village into a “peace zone” where tourists from both sides could move around with more freedom.

As one of their comrades ran towards the South in November 2017, North Korean soldiers fired 40 shots. The soldier was struck five times before he was discovered beneath a mound of leaves on Panmunjom’s southern side. He made it through and is now in South Korea.

An American soldier who had spent nearly two months in a South Korean prison defected across the heavily guarded border into North Korea

Two American army officers were slain by North Korean soldiers brandishing axes at Panmunjom in August 1976, which is considered to be the site of the most famous incident there. The U.S. officers were tasked with cutting down a 40-foot (12-meter) tree that was blocking a checkpoint’s view. In response to the strike, Washington sent nuclear-capable B-52 bombers towards the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to scare North Korea.

The armistice that ended the Korean War was also signed in Panmunjom. Since a peace agreement to replace that armistice has not yet been signed, the Korean Peninsula is officially still at war. In South Korea, the US still has 28,000 troops stationed there.

During the Cold War, a limited number of American soldiers crossed the demilitarised zone (DMZ) and defected to North Korea, notably Charles Jenkins, who quit his army station in South Korea in 1965. He married a Japanese nursing student who had been kidnapped from Japan by North Korean operatives and participated in North Korean propaganda films. 2017 saw his passing in Japan.

However, in recent years, North Korea has detained some American citizens who are believed to have crossed the border from China. They were later found guilty of espionage, subversion, and other anti-state crimes, but they were frequently liberated after the United States launched high-profile operations to arrange their release.

In May 2018, North Korea freed three American prisoners: Kim Dong Chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak Song. They had flown back to the US on a plane with Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state at the time, following a brief thaw in ties between the two longtime foes. North Korea claimed to have expelled American Bruce Byron Lowrance later in 2018. There haven’t been any reports of any Americans being detained in North Korea prior to Tuesday’s event since his removal.

An American soldier who had spent nearly two months in a South Korean prison defected across the heavily guarded border into North Korea

The North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-President Donald Trump were negotiating nuclear issues when the 2018 releases took place. 2019 saw the failure of the high-stakes negotiations because to disagreements on US-led sanctions against North Korea.

Their freedom stood in stark contrast to Otto Warmbier’s, an American university student who passed away in 2017 only days after North Korea had released him from captivity after 17 months in a coma. Warmbier and other American captives from the past were held in North Korea on charges of spying, subversion, and other offences.

North Korea is charged with exploiting foreign captives to force diplomatic concessions, according to the United States, South Korea, and other countries. Following their release, a few foreigners claimed that North Korea had forced them into making confessions of guilt.

High tensions over North Korea’s blitz of missile launches since the beginning of last year were present at the time of Tuesday’s border crossing. Tuesday marked the first time in forty years that a U.S. nuclear-armed submarine made a deterrent visit to South Korea against North Korea.

If King is attempting to portray himself as a legitimate defector running from political oppression or persecution, the North Korean government will decide whether he can remain, according to Sean Timmons, managing partner at the Tully Rinckey law firm, which focuses on military legal cases.

He predicted that Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of North Korea, will decide King’s fate.

It will depend on what their leadership decides to do, according to Timmons.

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