- By Christy Cooney
- BBC News
North Korea says US soldier Travis King entered its territory last month because of “inhumane abuse and racial discrimination” in the military.
The 23-year-old private from South Korea crossed the border on July 18 during a guided tour.
State media reported that Private King had “expressed his desire to seek refuge” in the north.
Washington said it could not verify the claims, which were Pyongyang’s first public comments on the case.
Responding to North Korean media reports, a Pentagon official said their priority was to bring Private King home safely “through all available channels.”
US officials have already said they believe the soldier crossed the border on purpose. He has not been seen since.
A report by North Korean state news agency KCNA said the soldier admitted to deliberately illegally crossing into North Korean territory, but did not say whether he faces prosecution or other punishment.
And there is no mention of his physical condition or current whereabouts.
Private King is an intelligence specialist who has been in the Army since January 2021 and was in South Korea as part of his rotation.
He spent two months in South Korea on assault charges before crossing the border and was released on July 10.
He had to fly back to the US to face disciplinary action, but was able to leave the airport and join a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea.
During the trial, Travis King admitted that he decided to come to DPRK [North Korea] “He had a bad feeling against the inhumane abuse and racial discrimination within the US military,” North Korean state news agency KCNA said.
“He also expressed his desire to seek refuge in the DPRK or a third country, saying he was disillusioned with the unequal American society.”
Private King’s family told ABC News earlier this month that he had experienced racism in the military. They also said that his mental health had deteriorated before his disappearance.
“I feel like I’m in a nightmare,” said her mother, Claudine Gates, adding that the family is desperate for answers.
North Korea is one of the few countries still nominally under communist rule and has long been a highly secretive and isolated society.
Its government, led by Kim Jong-un, has been accused of systematic human rights abuses.
The DMZ is one of the most heavily defended areas in the world, filled with landmines, surrounded by electric and barbed wire fences, and monitored by surveillance cameras. Armed guards are on 24-hour alert.
A person who said they were on the same tour of the South Korean side of the area described how the group went to a building in the area, “and this guy ran between some buildings yelling ‘ha ha ha’.”
“At first I thought it was a bad joke, but when he didn’t come back, I realized it wasn’t a joke and then everyone reacted and things got crazy,” the unnamed witness told the BBC’s US partner. CBS News.
No North Korean soldiers were seen when the man crossed, they said.
“It was on the way back in the bus and we came to one of the checkpoints… one said we have 43 going in and 42 coming back,” they said.
Concerns about the welfare of US military personnel are growing. Negotiations are ongoing between North Korean officials and the UN Command on the Korean Peninsula.