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US Army to make decision on soldier in North Korea’s custody

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While top U.S. officials have responded to the news of an Army soldier making an unauthorized crossing into North Korea, a military decision on the fate of the soldier had not been made as of early Wednesday morning, July 19. The soldier, identified as Private Travis T. King, crossed the inter-Korean border “wilfully and without authorization,” according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“Suddenly I noticed a guy running, guy dressed in black, running what looked like full gas towards the North Korean side. And my first thought was, ‘what an absolute idiot.’ I assumed he was sort of getting a mate to film that for some kind of TikTok stunt or something like that. But he just didn’t stop and he kept going,” Sarah Leslie, a New Zealand tourist who was on a tour of the border when King crossed, said Wednesday. “And then the U.S. and South Korean soldiers sort of realized what was happening, chased after him and yelled at us to sort of get in the building on the South Korean side. So we all ran.” 

The Army soldier’s motive for crossing into North Korea is unknown. He joined the Army in 2021, and was based in South Korea.

In October 2022, King faced accusations of assault and damaging a police car. He pleaded guilty and was fined for the incident in February 2023.

According to U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, King had been due to face disciplinary action by the U.S. military. It was not clear if that was related to the October incident.

“In terms of my concerns, I’m absolutely foremost concerned about the welfare of our troop. And so we will remain focused on this,” Austin said Tuesday, July 18. “And again, this will develop in the next several days and hours, and I will keep you posted.”

It was unclear how long North Korea would hold the Army soldier, and North Korean officials have been silent on the matter so far. Analysts speculated King could be used by the North for propaganda purposes.

On Tuesday, the White House said it was looking to gather more information as to King’s motive for crossing.

“I’m not working under any hypotheticals or any assumptions. What we’re doing is trying to, there is going to be an investigation into this incident,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. “I certainly don’t want to get into hypotheticals, speculations of what occurred or, or how we ended up here. We just want to make sure that we get to the bottom of this.”

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A U.S. SOLDIER IS BELIEVED TO BE IN NORTH KOREAN CUSTODY AFTER “WILLFULLY” AND “WITHOUT AUTHORIZATION” CROSSED INTO NORTH KOREA WHILE TAKING A CIVILIAN TOUR AT THE BORDER LINE THAT SEPARATES THE NORTH FROM THE SOUTH.
WE’RE LEARNING MORE ABOUT WHO THE SOLDIER IS —
AND POTENTIAL NEXT STEPS.
ACCORDING TO THE U.S. ARMY — 23-YEAR-OLD “PRIVATE TRAVIS KING” WAS STATIONED IN SOUTH KOREA —
AND FACED DISCIPLINARY ACTION FOR ASSAULT —
SPENDING 50 DAYS IN A DETENTION FACILITY.
KING WAS SET TO FLY BACK TO A BASE IN TEXAS TO POTENTIALLY FACE ADDITIONAL MILITARY DISCIPLINE BEFORE HE REPORTEDLY **RAN ACROSS INTO NORTH KOREA’S TERRITORY.
NORTH KOREA HAS BEEN SILENT ON THE MATTER.
AT A PRESS CONFERENCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE —
THE PRESS SECRETARY WAS ASKED HOW FAR THE ADMINISTRATION WOULD BE WILLING TO GO TO GET THE SOLDIER BACK — IF THE SOLDIER **WILLINGLY CROSSED BOUNDARY-LINES.
RIGHT NOW — THE WHITE HOUSE SAYS THEY ARE FOCUSED ON GATHERING MORE INFORMATION ON THE INCIDENT.
“You have the State Department, you have the Department of Defense, you have the U.N. and the White House all working together to resolve this. Resolving this is basically getting to the bottom of exactly what happened. And that is important for us to know. I just don’t have more to share. And once we do, we’ll certainly share the information.”