North Korea: US Soldier Fled Racial Discrimination

Travis King 'was disillusioned at the unequal American society,' state-run news agency says
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 3, 2023 6:54 AM CDT
Updated Aug 15, 2023 6:50 PM CDT
North Korea Confirms US Soldier in Custody
Carl Gates, grandfather of American soldier Travis King, talks about his grandson, Wednesday, July 19, 2023, in Kenosha, Wis.   (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
UPDATE Aug 15, 2023 6:50 PM CDT

Travis King crossed into North Korea last month because he "harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the US Army," state-run news agency KCNA said Wednesday. The claim was Pyongyang's first official comment on the 23-year-old soldier since he crossed from South Korea without permission on July 18, reports Reuters. KCNA said King "expressed his willingness to take refuge" in North Korea or a third country, saying "that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society." Pentagon spokesman Martin Meiner said officials "can't verify the alleged comments" and they remain focused on bringing King home, NBC News reports.

Aug 3, 2023 6:54 AM CDT

North Korea has confirmed it's holding Travis King, thought to be the first US soldier to cross into the country in 40 years. The confirmation came through UN Command, the multinational military force that polices the demilitarized border zone, which reached out "using its direct phone line to the North Korean Army," the BBC reports. It said Pyongyang for the first time acknowledged holding the 23-year-old private who crossed the border from South Korea while on a tour. But "in order not to interfere with our efforts to get him home, we will not go into details at this time," UN Command said. A State Department rep said "it was not a substantive call" and not seen "as progress in any way," adding outreach made through diplomatic channels "has still not been answered," per CNN.

King was last seen heading across the DMZ on July 18. He'd been released from a South Korean prison just eight days earlier. He served two months for assault and was due to fly back to the US to possibly face further discipline. Once through security at the airport, however, he claimed to have lost his passport and was allowed to exit. He then joined the tour to the border village of Panmunjom. Officials and witnesses say he crossed into the North on his own volition. But family members have a hard time believing that. King's sister, Jaqueda Gates, tells CNN that her brother is "not the type to just disappear" so "I feel like the story is deeper than that."

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Uncle Myron Gates, who also described the behavior as out of character for King, previously said the young reconnaissance specialist began acting recklessly after the February death of Gates' 6-year-old son back home in the US. "We're gonna continue to fight for you and we ain't gonna stop until you come home," Gates said Wednesday, per CNN, adding the family is still waiting to hear from the Biden administration. Meanwhile, North Korea chose Wednesday to bash the new US special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, saying Julie Turner's past criticism signaled US hostility toward Pyongyang, per the AP. Continued US criticism could "backfire on it, spawning severe security issues," the statement said. (More Travis King stories.)

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