US soldier who crossed border into North Korea after fleeing airport identified as Travis King

‘It took everybody a second to react and grasp what had actually happened,’ tour-attendee says in deleted social media post

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 18 July 2023 19:07 BST
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Related video: U.S. Army Soldier Taken Into Custody by North Korea After Crossing Joint Security Area Border

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The US soldier who departed from a civilian tour group in the DMZ into North Korea has been identified as Private 2nd Class Travis King.

US officials told CBS News that Private King had been released from military detention in South Korea and that he was being sent out of the country following disciplinary issues.

Colonel Isaac Taylor of United States Forces Korea Public Affairs told The Independent: “A U.S. Service member on a JSA orientation tour willfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We believe he is currently in DPRK custody and are working with our KPA counterparts to resolve this incident.”

The soldier was part of a group taking a tour of the Joint Security Area – the border village in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, which is heavily guarded by soldiers from both sides.

The UN Command said in a statement: “A US National on a JSA (Joint Security Area) orientation tour crossed, without authorisation, the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”

An anonymous official told The Washington Post that “This was a deliberate decision on part of the service member to cross”.

An individual who said they witnessed what took place and was taking part in the tour along with the US soldier told CBS News that they had visited one of the buildings in the area when “this man gives out a loud ‘ha ha ha,’ and just runs in between some buildings”.

“I thought it was a bad joke at first, but when he didn’t come back, I realised it wasn’t a joke, and then everybody reacted and things got crazy,” they told the outlet.

The witness told the network that no North Korean soldiers could be seen where the man ran, adding that they had been told that there hadn’t been any present since the pandemic as North Korea attempted to fully close its borders.

The witness said that after the man had crossed the border, the tour group was taken to Freedom House to give statements and then to be taken to their bus.

“I’m telling you this because it actually hit me quite hard,” the witness told CBS News. “It was on the way back in the bus, and we got to one of the checkpoints ... Someone said we were 43 going in and 42 coming back.”

An anonymous Pentagon official told NPR that the soldier was dressed in civilian clothes when the incident took place and that he was facing disciplinary action in the US.

A woman who said she was part of the tour group said they were at the last stop when she heard the loud “ha ha ha” and then she saw the man, who had spent the day with the group, running “between two of the buildings and over to the other side”.

“It took everybody a second to react and grasp what had actually happened,” she wrote on Facebook in a since-deleted post, according to NPR. “Then we were ordered into and through Freedom House and running back to our military bus.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Tuesday that “I’m absolutely foremost concerned about the welfare of our troops”.

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