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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Travis King, the U.S. soldier who crossed South Korea’s border into North Korea, is back in U.S. custody

Travis King, the young American soldier who crossed the border on foot from South Korea into North Korea in July, was back in U.S. custody Wednesday, U.S. officials confirmed. North Korea announced earlier Wednesday that it would expel King, with the totalitarian state’s tightly-controlled media saying he had confessed to entering the country illegally.

King was first sent across North Korea’s border into China, where he was transferred to U.S. custody. U.S. officials said there were no concessions made by Washington to secure King’s release.

King appeared to be in “good health and good spirits as he makes his way home,” a U.S. official said, adding that he was also “very happy” to be coming back. It wasn’t clear when King might return to the U.S., as American officials only said Wednesday that he was heading from China to a U.S. military base.

“U.S. officials have secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement, adding thanks to “the government of Sweden for its diplomatic role serving as the protecting power for the United States in the DPRK and the government of the People’s Republic of China for its assistance in facilitating the transit of Private King.”

Jonathan Franks, a representative for King’s family, shared a message from the soldier’s mother, Claudine Gates, on social media Wednesday, saying she would be “forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done,” and requesting privacy for the family.

North Korea’s KCNA released a statement earlier in the day saying: “The relevant agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea] decided to expel Travis King, an American soldier who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, in accordance with the laws of the Republic.”

King, a Private 2nd Class in the U.S. Army, entered North Korea while taking part in a guided tour of the border village of Panmunjom, which he joined after absconding from an airport in Seoul, South Korea, where he was supposed to have boarded a flight back to the U.S.

North Korea previously claimed that King had told investigators he crossed the border because he, “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”

The U.S. military said at the time that it could not verify those allegations.

The soldier had been scheduled to return to the U.S. after serving time at a South Korea detention facility for assaulting two people and kicking a police car while in the country. After parting ways from his U.S. military escort at the airport, King skipped his flight and joined the civilian tour of the border town, where he ran across into North Korea.

In an interview last month with The Associated Press, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said her son had “so many reasons” to want to come home.

“I just can’t see him ever wanting to just stay in Korea when he has family in America. He has so many reasons to come home,” she said.

King has served in the U.S. Army since January 2021. He has not been deployed for active duty but was in South Korea as part of the Pentagon’s regular Korean Force Rotation.

King is likely to have proven “unsuitable for propaganda purposes” to North Korea, Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean studies in Seoul told CBS News, because the soldier entered North Korea as a fugitive, making it “difficult” for the country’s authorities to deal with him.

Yang also told CBS News the decision to deport the soldier was likely made in part due to a “lukewarm” response to the incident by Washington.

CBS News’ Cami McCormick in Washington, D.C., and Jen Kwon in Seoul contributed to this report.

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