North Korea has claimed that a US soldier who ran across the border into the country last month has confessed to illegally intruding and expressed his willingness to seek refuge in the North or a third country. Private Travis King, who was heading back to the US after a run-in with South Korean police, snuck away from his escort and joined a tourist trip to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on July 18. He then deliberately crossed into the North Korean side of the Military Demarcation Line, according to state media KCNA.
KCNA said that King admitted that he had decided to come over to the North as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army. He also said that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society, KCNA added. The report is the first public acknowledgment of the incident by North Korea, which said its investigation into King would continue.
The US Department of Defense said it could not verify the comments reported by KCNA, but reiterated that it remains focused on King’s safety and his return home. A Pentagon spokesperson said that they are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome. The incident came as relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points ever, with diplomacy stalled and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for increased weapons development, including of tactical nuclear warheads. Pyongyang has a long history of detaining Americans and using them as bargaining chips in bilateral negotiations.