US Army head concerned for safety of soldier in North Korea

Washington is attempting to contact Pyongyang through various channels after private crossed the border into the country

US Army Private Travis King. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

US Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said on Thursday that she was “very concerned” about the soldier who fled to North Korea.

Private Travis King was supposed to travel to the US this week after finishing a prison sentence in South Korea for assault.

Instead, he ran across the border into North Korea while on a civilian tour of the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, becoming the first known American to be held by Pyongyang in nearly five years.

“He did wilfully run across into North Korean territory,” Ms Wormuth said on Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

She said it was unclear why King ran across the border into North Korea but acknowledged that he was probably worried about facing further disciplinary action upon his return home to the US.

Ms Wormuth said there was no information to suggest he was a North Korea sympathiser.

“It makes me very, very concerned that Private King is in the hands of North Korean authorities. I worry about how they may treat him,” she said.

The Secretary cited the case of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was imprisoned in North Korea and returned home in a vegetative state shortly before his death.

Washington is pursuing several avenues, including UN channels, to try to contact Pyongyang, but so far have been unable to speak with North Korean officials, Ms Wormuth said.

“The Department of Defence, the State Department, the White House, we’re using UN channels, have been reaching out to the DPRK to get information about his status and to work with them to try to bring him back,” she said.

Updated: July 20, 2023, 5:05 PM