SEOUL, Aug 16 (Reuters) – North Korea has decided that Travis King wants asylum there or in another country because of “inhumane abuse and racial discrimination” by the United States and its military, Pyongyang said on Wednesday, its first public acknowledgment. From South Korea on July 18.
A private in the US Army, King entered the North while on a civilian tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA), the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas.
U.S. officials have said they believe King crossed the border intentionally and have so far declined to classify him as a prisoner of war.
State news agency KCNA said North Korean investigators have concluded that King deliberately and illegally crossed into the North or with the intention of staying in a third country.
“During the interrogation, Travis King admitted that he decided to come to the DPRK because he had a bad feeling against the inhumane abuse and racial discrimination within the US military,” KCNA reported, using the initials of North Korea’s official name. “He also expressed his desire to seek refuge in the DPRK or a third country, saying he was disillusioned with the unequal American society.”
KCNA said after King’s passing, he was “held under control by soldiers of the Korean People’s Army” and that the investigation was still active.
King’s uncle, Myron Gates, told ABC News in early August that his nephew experienced racism during his military service and that after he spent time in a South Korean prison, he was no longer like himself.
An uncertain future
U.S. officials have so far said the North has not provided substantive responses to their requests for information about King.
The Pentagon said it could not verify King’s comments, according to the KCNA report, and was focused on his safe return. It did not say whether it had sought additional details from North Korea.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the United Nations Command (UNC), which oversees the border village King passed through, said he had nothing to add to earlier reports.
How to classify the 23-year-old remains an open question for the US military.
Because the United States and North Korea are technically at war, he could qualify as a prisoner of war as an active duty soldier. The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty. The Korean Peninsula is technically at war with the UNC providing oversight for the armistice.
U.S. officials have said factors, including King’s decision to enter North Korea on his own volition in civilian clothes, disqualify him from prisoner-of-war status.
King, who joined the U.S. Army in January 2021, is a cavalry scout in the Korean Rotational Force, part of the U.S. security commitment to South Korea.
But his position had legal problems.
He faced two assault charges in South Korea and pleaded guilty to one count of assault and destruction of public property for damaging a police car while ranting against Koreans, according to court documents. He faced more disciplinary action on his return to the US.
King finished his stint in military custody and was flown to the airport by the US military to return to his home unit in the US. Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran despite attempts by South Korean and American guards to stop him.
Reporting by Soo-Hyang Choi and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Idris Ali in Washington; Written by Josh Smith; Editing by Grant McCool and Stephen Coates
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