U.S. soldier Travis King, who entered North Korea without permission in July, has been expelled from the country and is in U.S. custody, American officials say.
King was sent to China, where the U.S. took custody of him, and then was taken to an American military base, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the operation. They didn’t disclose the location of the base where King was taken.
Diplomats from Sweden, which acts as the U.S. intermediary in North Korea, helped facilitate the transfer, the officials said.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also thanked “the government of the People’s Republic of China for its assistance in facilitating the transit of Private King,” effectively acknowledging the transfer as an example of cooperation despite strains in U.S.-China relations.
Through a spokesman, King’s mother Claudine Gates said the family “will be forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done” and asked for privacy.
King, 23, a cavalry scout from Wisconsin, has been in the Army since January 2021. He’d been jailed for almost two months in South Korea for assault and was set to fly to Texas in July, where he faced expulsion from the military. Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour to the Joint Security Area in the Panmunjom truce village, where he ran across the border and was later whisked away in a van surrounded by North Korean military personnel.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency announced the plan to expel King in a 120-word dispatch earlier Wednesday that didn’t provide information on King’s whereabouts or arrangements for sending him to the U.S.
It’s unusual for North Korea to expel a U.S. service member who sought refuge there. The North Korean government has held them in the past to extract concessions from the U.S. or for propaganda purposes with a show trial and sometimes a confession likely designed by Pyongyang’s propaganda apparatus to tarnish the image of the U.S.
“Travis King confessed that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army and was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society,” KCNA said.
No concessions were given to North Korea in order to secure King’s release and the private is happy to be returning home to reunite with his family, according to a U.S. official, who said the government was in touch with King’s relatives.
North Korea had let it be known earlier this month, via the Swedish government, it was prepared to release King, another administration official said. The official didn’t say why Pyongyang decided to let King go. The officials who briefed reporters declined to say if King would face disciplinary action by the military after his return.