North Korea confirmed publicly for the first time on Wednesday that U.S. Army Private Travis King, who is from Racine, Wisconsin, is in the country.
According to CNN, the country's government-controlled Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed King, 23, expressed "his willingness to seek refuge" in North Korea or a third country. The statement says in part, "He (King) was disillusioned at the unequal American society."
On July 18, King, who had just finished serving time in a South Korean prison, was escorted to the airport to return to the United States to face possible disciplinary action. Instead of boarding the flight, King joined a tour group to the demilitarized zone and ran across the border to North Korea where he has since been detained.
The U.S. Defense Secretary previously confirmed that King crossed the border into North Korea “willfully and without authorization.” King is the first American detained in the North in five years.
KCNA's statement claims King allegedly confessed, “he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.” KCNA says Travis admitted "illegally" intruding into North Korea.
According to the Associated Press, "KCNA is a propaganda arm of North Korea’s dictatorship and often releases statements and articles carefully calibrated to reflect the government’s official line that the United States is an evil adversary."
It is impossible to confirm King's comments reported in KCNA. In the past, foreign detainees after their releases said their declarations of guilt were made under coercion while in North Korean custody.
Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst, told the AP that it is possible North Korea will try to "bargain" King's life in exchange for financial concessions from the U.S. Kim said, "More than likely, negotiations won't be easy, and terms will be dictated by Pyongyang."
Last week, it was announced King would not be classified as a prisoner of war (POW) by the U.S. government. That means King would not be covered by protections given to prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. King, an active-duty soldier, could be qualified as a POW since the U.S. and North Korea technically remain at war. However, officials say he is disqualified because he crossed over on his own free will.
King's family previously spoke with TMJ4 News as they waited for answers, including questions surrounding his safety. Myron Gates, King's uncle, said, “My family right now — everyone is distressed."
Gates said 48 hours prior to the incident, King told family members he was excited to come home.
“Right now if you ask us why he did it, we would just be speculating because nobody really knows why he did it but him," Gates shared.
On Wednesday, shortly before North Korea released its first public statement on King, TMJ4 News spoke with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about the incident.
"What I can ensure and promise is that the United States is going to take every avenue to bring home Private King and do everything that we can to get him home safely," she shared.
North Korea said their investigation is ongoing.
CNN provided TMJ4 News with the full KCNA statement Wednesday. Read below:
In the joint security area of Panmunjom on July 18, Juche 112 (2023), there happened an incident in which Travis King, a private 2nd class of the U.S. Army in south Korea, illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK.
At 15:30 on July 18, King, who accompanied tourists to the joint security area of Panmunjom, came to be kept under control by soldiers of the Korean People's Army on duty as he deliberately intruded into the area of the DPRK side between the room for the DPRK-U.S. military contacts and the rest room of security officers along the Military Demarcation Line.
According to an investigation by a relevant organ of the DPRK, Travis King admitted that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK.
During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.
He also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society.
The investigation continues.
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