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Travis King: US soldier released by North Korea arrives in Texas


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2023-09-28T19:41:26Z

Private Travis King, the U.S. soldier who ran into North Korea in July, landed at a U.S air base in Texas early Thursday (September 28) after being expelled by North Korea into China. Rachel Judah has more.

U.S. Private Travis T. King (wearing a black shirt and black cap) is seen in this picture taken during a tour of the tightly controlled Joint Security Area (JSA) on the border between the two Koreas, at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, July 18, 2023. Sarah Leslie/Handout via REUTERS/ File Photo

U.S. Army Private Travis King arrived at a U.S. military hospital in Texas on Thursday where he will undergo medical evaluations, including for his mental health, following his expulsion from North Korea a day earlier, the Pentagon said.

King, 23, was held in North Korea for over two months after his surprise dash across the heavily militarized border dividing the Korean peninsula.

Details are still scarce about King’s treatment while in North Korean custody and questions remain about why he fled to one of the world’s most reclusive nations.

“He’ll be going through medical screenings, medical evaluations, and then he’ll be meeting with professionals to assess his emotional and mental health,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters.

Singh said she could not put a timetable on the evaluation process, but added that he will be going through the reintegration program for the “immediate future.”

A U.S. military flight carrying King landed at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston at about 0530 GMT, officials said. Television footage showed a group of people leaving a plane at the base at that time.

Army spokesperson Bryce Dubee said King was at the base’s Brooke Army Medical Center.

“The Army’s focus right now is on ensuring the soldier’s well-being and privacy,” Dubee added.

RIGOROUS EXAMINATION
King was expected to undergo a rigorous examination process at the center, where basketball star Brittney Griner was treated in December after a prisoner swap with Russia ended her 10 months in Russian detention. Given patient privacy concerns, the U.S. military may not make the results of those examinations public.

King ran into North Korea from the South on July 18 while on a civilian tour of the border and was immediately taken into North Korean custody.

It was unclear if King will face disciplinary action by the U.S. Army. It has so far not called him a deserter, even though he crossed the border without authorization while on active duty, and it has deferred questions about any punishments King might face.

For its part, North Korea appears to have treated his case as one of illegal immigration.

Its KCNA state news agency said King told Pyongyang he entered North Korea illegally because he was “disillusioned about unequal U.S. society.”

The Swedish government, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic presence in the country, retrieved King in North Korea and brought him to China.

The State Department said the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns, met King in Dandong, China, a city bordering North Korea. King then flew from there to Shenyang, China, then on to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, before continuing his voyage back to the United States.

King, who joined the Army in January 2021, faced two allegations of assault in South Korea. He pleaded guilty to assault and destroying public property for damaging a police car during a profanity-laced tirade against Koreans, according to court documents. He had been due to face more disciplinary measures in the United States.

Pyongyang appears to have concluded King’s criminal background made him “unfit” for propaganda purposes, said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Keeping him longer, Yang said, could have risked another incident like that of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. college student who died shortly after he was returned to the United States from imprisonment in North Korea.

“So they might have just opted to use it as a chance to highlight themselves as a ‘normal state,’ showing that they are no longer using these detainees for political, diplomatic purposes,” Yang said.

Jenny Town, director of the Washington-based North Korea project 38 North, did not see the incident reopening the door to stalled U.S.-North Korea diplomacy aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs, although she said it might reflect slightly improving U.S.-China relations, given China’s cooperation in the return.

Even as King was en route home, North Korea said it had adopted a constitutional amendment to enshrine its policy on nuclear force, and its leader Kim Jong Un pledged to accelerate production of nuclear weapons to deter what he called U.S. provocations.

China’s foreign ministry said North Korea and the United States had requested that China provide assistance for King’s return in a humanitarian spirit.

In July, King had finished serving military detention in Korea and was at the airport awaiting U.S. military transport to his home unit in the U.S. Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran into North Korea despite attempts by South Korean and U.S. guards to stop him.