North Korea has decided to expel Pvt. Travis T. King, the American soldier who fled across the inter-Korean border into its territory on July 18, the North’s state news media said on Wednesday.
After 70 days of investigation, North Korea found Private King guilty of “illegally intruding” into its territory and decided to expel him, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
The news agency said that Private King had confessed to illegally entering North Korea because, it said, he “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army and was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society.”
North Korea did not say how and when it planned to deport Private King, including whether he would be sent back to South Korea through the Demilitarized Zone, which separates North and South Korea. He had fled to the North through the DMZ.
Col. Isaac Taylor, a spokesman for the United States military in South Korea, said, “Our priority is to bring Private King home, and we are working through all available channels to achieve that outcome.”
There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon.
It is unusual for North Korea to expel an American soldier who has expressed a wish to seek asylum there. In the past, the country allowed American G.I.s who deserted to its side to live and even start families there. It often used them as propaganda tools, casting them as evil United States military officers in anti-American movies.
Private King, 23, had been assigned to South Korea as a member of the First Brigade Combat Team, First Armored Division. After being released in July from a South Korean detention center where he had spent time on assault charges, he was escorted by U.S. military personnel to Incheon International Airport outside Seoul to board a plane to the United States, where he was expected to face additional disciplinary action.
He never boarded the plane. Instead, he took a bus the next day to the border village of Panmunjom, which lies inside the DMZ and allows tourists to visit.
The soldier “willfully and without authorization crossed the Military Demarcation Line into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” Colonel Taylor, the public affairs officer for U.S. Forces Korea, said at the time.
Last month, North Korea said that Private King wanted to seek refuge in the isolated Communist country or in a third country. In its announcement on Wednesday, it did not elaborate on why it had decided not to grant his wish.
Private King was the first known American held in North Korean custody since Bruce Byron Lowrance was detained for a month after illegally entering the country from China in 2018.
Civilian Americans accused of illegal entry have been prosecuted and sentenced to hard labor, or sometimes released and expelled.
Robert Park, a Korean American missionary who walked across the border between China and North Korea in 2009, was held for 43 days in the North before being deported by plane to Beijing. In 2013, Merrill Newman, an American retiree, was held for 42 days before being flown from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to Beijing.
In the cases of some civilian Americans accused of illegal entry, North Korea has also used them as bargaining chips in negotiations with Washington, with which it has no formal diplomatic ties.
In 2009, North Korea arrested two United States journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, on its border with China, accusing them of illegal entry and “hostile acts.” They were released five months later when President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader at the time.
In 2010, another American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been held on similar charges, was freed when former President Jimmy Carter visited Pyongyang to ask for his release and, according to North Korea, “apologized” for the man’s crime. In 2014, Kenneth Bae, a Korean American missionary, was freed after the American government sent the director of national intelligence at the time, James R. Clapper Jr., to Pyongyang.