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Facing Charges, US Soldier Flees to North Korea

FILE - North Korea's flag flies on a tower high above the village of Ki Jong Dong, as seen from Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarized Zone, DMZ, the tense military border between the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, March 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Facing Charges, US Soldier Flees to North Korea
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A U.S. soldier crossed the border dividing North and South Korea at the Joint Security Area, or JSA, Tuesday. It is believed that North Korean officials are holding the soldier.

A U.S. defense official said, “A U.S. Soldier on a JSA orientation tour willfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

The United Nations Command is a multinational military force that has supervised the border village area since fighting stopped in the Korean War. It said it was working with North Korea’s military to “resolve the incident.” It confirmed that the man was at JSA to see the area for the first time.

The man suddenly crossed north of the border at around 6:27 UTC on Tuesday, unnamed persons with the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo said.

Dependable sources in the South Korean military said the American who crossed the border is a U.S. soldier stationed with United States Forces Korea.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that the soldier was Private 2nd Class Travis King. The AP said that King had recently been released from a South Korean prison and faced additional military disciplinary action in the United States.

FILE - South Korean soldier (R) and United Nations Command soldier (background, in green) stand guard near the military demarcation line separating North and South, at the Joint Security Area of DMZ in the truce village of Panmunjom, Oct. 4, 2022. (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP)
FILE - South Korean soldier (R) and United Nations Command soldier (background, in green) stand guard near the military demarcation line separating North and South, at the Joint Security Area of DMZ in the truce village of Panmunjom, Oct. 4, 2022. (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP)

No fire appeared to have been exchanged at the border town, where soldiers from the two Koreas stand guard facing each other at all times.

Cases of Americans or South Koreans defecting to North Korea are rare although more than 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

In recent years, some American civilians have been arrested in North Korea after entering the country from China. They were found guilty of spying or other offenses against the North Korean state. Most were often released after the U.S. sent high-level officials to secure their release. American college student Otto Warmbier died in 2017 shortly after his release from detention in North Korea where he was arrested in 2015.

The most recent incident took place as South Korea’s military remains on high alert. It is watching for possible actions from North Korea after a U.S. nuclear missile submarine arrived in the southern port city of Busan.

The USS Kentucky can launch Trident II missiles that can travel 12,000 kilometers. The deployment aims to show U.S. support for South Korea in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack.

U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, was in Seoul on Tuesday.

Campbell is leading a 30-person delegation to launch the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) with South Korea. South Korea says the group will strengthen its alliance with the U.S. to one that includes nuclear weapons. U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol established the group in a communication released by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden called the Washington Declaration.

A joint statement following the first meeting of the NCG noted that any North Korean nuclear attack against the United States or its allies would result in the end of that government. It added that a nuclear attack against South Korea would be met with a “decisive response.”

I’m Gregory Stachel.

Gregory Stachel adapted this story based on reporting from The Associated Press and Voice of America.


Words in This Story

orientation –n. a training exercise for people new to an organization

authorization –n. official permission

resolve v. to find an answer or solution to (something)

disciplinary –adj. relating to punishment by an organization or service

defect v. to leave a country, political party, or organization and go to a different one that is a competitor or an enemy

alliance n. a union between people, groups, or countries

decisive adj. able to make choices quickly and confidently


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