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How a 23-Year-Old US Soldier Defected into North Korea

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How a 23-Year-Old US Soldier Defected into North Korea

US Pentagon officials in Washington, have reported that that the US soldier that fled the airport and joined a tour group before crossing into North Korea have no new information on the soldier.

Travis T. King, a U.S. Army private, was being led to the airport after completing his imprisonment in South Korea. He would most certainly be subject to disciplinary action once returning home. However, he never arrived to his plane.

Instead, one official claimed that he went through security by himself, made it to his departure gate, and then took off. King informed airline staff that he couldn’t board his aircraft because his passport was gone, according to a report Reuters that was based on an airport official.

From there, King, 23, joined a tour for civilians in the tightly guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating South Korea and the North, where he fled on Tuesday as American and South Korean security forces yelled “Get him!” in vain.

So started a strange journey that has given Washington’s interactions with the nuclear-armed regime a new challenge.

While refraining from calling King a defector, the U.S. military was frantically trying to ascertain King’s fate and motivation on Wednesday in the wake of what authorities claimed was a willful, unauthorized border crossing that resulted in an active-duty American soldier ending up in North Korean hands.

Even though there are still many unanswered questions, investigations by officials from Seoul to Washington and witness reports have started to piece together a picture of King and what happened.

King, a member of the Korean Rotational Force who enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 2021, had previously worked as a Cavalry Scout as a part of the long-standing U.S. security commitment to South Korea. His honors include the Overseas Service Ribbon, the Korean Defence Service Medal, and the National Defence Service Medal. But legal issues hampered Kings’ posting in South Korea.

Destroying Public Property

According to a South Korean court decision, King admitted to assault and destroying public property related to an incident in October and was fined 5 million won ($4,000) on February 8. The lawsuit was resolved, but the verdict claimed that King had struck a man in the face on September 25 at a club.

Then, on October 8, police responded to a report of another altercation involving King and attempted to question him, but he persisted in his “aggressive behaviour,” the court found, kicking the door of a police car he was put in and yelling profanities.

Under the condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said King had been expecting military punishment upon his return to Fort Bliss, Texas. If that was associated with the October incident remained unclear.

What caused King to behave in the manner he did on Tuesday is still a mystery.

Carl Gates, King’s uncle, indicated that he had been upset by the loss of his 7-year-old cousin earlier this year from a rare genetic disease.

Gates, who referred to himself as King’s “father figure,” claimed to have been one of the last individuals to speak to King on the phone before he entered North Korea in an interview with The Daily Beast. According to news accounts, King is a native of Racine, Wisconsin.

Eye Witnesses Accounts at South and North Korea DMZ

Details of the tumultuous situation at the border on Tuesday are now starting to surface. “It all happened pretty quickly,” remarked Sarah Leslie, a New Zealander who was on the same tour in the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the DMZ. She was one of about 40 tourists who were wandering the area and taking pictures just before King sped off to North Korea.

She claimed that King, who was wearing jeans, a black shirt, and a black cap with the letters “DMZ” printed on it, suddenly sprinted between the buildings towards the North as the party was about to leave one of the famous blue buildings that spans the border between the two Koreas and is used for discussions.

According to her, “I don’t think anyone who was sane would want to go to North Korea, so I assumed it was some kind of stunt,” she told Reuters. He was already on the north side of the border when South Korean guards and American soldiers chased after him shouting, according to Leslie.

The precise location of King is still a mystery, as is what will occur next.

Analysts and a former North Korean ambassador said North Korea is likely to use the border crossing by a U.S. soldier for propaganda purposes but won’t likely be able to exert political influence.

Holding someone like King might cause problems for the North if it goes on too long.

According to former North Korean ambassador Tae Yong-ho, who is currently a member of South Korea’s parliament, North Korea is required to set up a security and surveillance squad, as well as arrange for an interpreter, a private vehicle, a driver, and housing for U.S. soldiers who defect.

According to Andrei Lankov, director of the Seoul-based Korea Risk Group, Pyongyang has an established procedure for treating American and other Western detainees or defectors well in order to prevent political backlash. Otto Warmbier, a college student from the United States, was a remarkable exception; he passed away in 2017 not long after being released from a North Korean prison.

According to Lankov, detainees are frequently kept in the North Korean equivalent of a four-star hotel.

The length of King’s stay in North Korea, however, may be considerable, according to observers.

“I am not sure that will be the case,” said Victor Cha, a former U.S. official and Korea expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s always good to resolve these ASAP, but I am not certain that will be the case.”

He claimed that historically, “the North holds these people for weeks, if not months, for propaganda purposes (especially if this is a U.S. soldier) before a coerced confession and apology.”

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