The detention of an American soldier who dashed across the strongly guarded border between the two Koreas while other tourists watched in disbelief on Wednesday went unmentioned by North Korea.
Amid the escalating hostilities between the adversaries, some commentators claimed that the North was unlikely to repatriate him anytime soon.
A day after he was due to leave the nation and head to a post in the United States, Pvt. 2nd Class Travis King escaped into North Korea while taking a tour of the Demilitarized Zone on Tuesday.
This is not the first time King has encountered legal issues in South Korea; he was recently released from a prison there. In the US, he might have received a harsher penalty.
King is the first American detained in North Korea for at least four and a half years. Each detention has resulted in protracted diplomatic fighting, and this one occurs at a moment when tensions are at their highest.
The United States deployed a nuclear-armed submarine in South Korea for the first time in decades on Wednesday, prompting North Korea to test-fire two ballistic missiles into the ocean in what appears to be retaliation.
“It’s likely that North Korea will use the soldier for propaganda purposes in the short term and then as a bargaining chip in the mid- to long-term,” said Yang Moo-jin, head of the University of North Korean Studies in South Korea. King, a cavalry scout with the 1st Armored Division, was 23 years old and had served over two months in a South Korean prison for assault.
He was released on July 10 and was scheduled to go to Fort Bliss, Texas, on Monday. There, he might have been subject to further military punishment and even been discharged from the service.
He was led through customs but departed the terminal before boarding his aircraft.
How he passed the time before boarding the Panmunjom tour and sprinting across the border on Tuesday afternoon remained unclear.
The Army informed King’s family and then disclosed his name and a few other details.
However, other U.S. officials who spoke on the record under the condition of anonymity due to the nature of the situation revealed more information.
A woman who went on the trip with King claimed that she and the other members of the group couldn’t believe what occurred and that at first they assumed King’s dash was some sort of trick.
King’s stay in jail was not his first run-in with the law in South Korea.
According to a transcript of the decision acquired by The Associated Press, a court fined him 5 million won ($3,950) in February after finding him guilty of assaulting an unnamed individual and causing damage to a police vehicle in Seoul the previous October.
According to the decision, King was also charged with hitting a 23-year-old man in a nightclub in Seoul, but the court dropped the accusation because the victim didn’t want King to be punished.
When she learned that her son had entered North Korea, King’s mother told ABC News that she was astounded. Claudine Gates of Racine, Wisconsin, stated, “I can’t see Travis doing anything like that.”