Travis King, the U.S. soldier who bolted into North Korea during a border tour in July, is back in American custody after Pyongyang decided to expel him.
Two U.S. officials first confirmed the news to the Associated Press, with one saying King had been handed over to American authorities in China. The news came shortly after North Korea announced it had decided to expel the 23-year-old.
“Sweden and China assisted working diplomatic channels with North Korea—where the United States has no representation on the ground—to bring Pvt. King home,” the Pentagon said in a statement, per Foreign Policy.
According to the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), King had confessed to having illegally crossed into North Korea “due to inhuman treatment in the U.S. military, antipathy to racism and disillusionment with the unequal U.S. society.”
“The relevant body in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has decided to deport U.S. soldier Travis King, who illegally entered the territory of the republic, in accordance with the laws of the republic,” it added.
King defected to North Korea by crossing over the border on an organized trip to the DMZ on July 18, reportedly cackling with laughter as he ran away from his tour group and from chasing guards. He had been due to return to the United States to face disciplinary action after being found guilty of assault at a nightclub in South Korea.
North Korea kept silent about the soldier’s actions for almost a month, until KCNA reported that the 23-year-old soldier had “admitted” to having “illegally intruded” into the DPRK. It said King crossed the border because “he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”
The report continued: “He also expressed his willingness to seek refugee in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society.”
That last line in the KCNA report led to speculation that King could be deported by North Korea to a friendly nation, which effectively means Russia or China.
The Seoul-based website NK News noted in a report last week that North Korea has tended in recent years to kick out Americans who try to stay in the DPRK and might do the same for King.
“By stating that King was open to going to a ‘third country,’ North Korea implied that it could send him on his way at some point,” it said.
But it added: “North Korea could lose face if they gave someone who reportedly claimed to be a victim of racism back to the dreaded U.S. imperialists. Sending King to a third country would allow Pyongyang to claim the moral high ground, while still allowing the DPRK to wash its hands of him.”