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AWOL US soldier captured by North Korea returned to US military

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2022. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
September 27, 2023

U.S. Army Private Travis King, who crossed the Military Demarcation Line into North Korea in July and has been considered absent without official leave (AWOL), has been safely returned to American custody.

The news comes after intense diplomatic negotiations between the United States and various nations.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed King’s return in a statement on Wednesday, stating, “U.S. officials have secured the return of Private Travis King from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). We appreciate the dedication of the interagency team that has worked tirelessly out of concern for Private King’s wellbeing.”

Sullivan also thanked the Swedish government for “its diplomatic role serving as the protecting power for the United States in the DPRK,” as well as the Chinese government’s help in “facilitating the transit” of King.

Earlier, North Korean state media, KCNA, reported that the nation decided “to expel” King after concluding their investigation, according to the Yonhap News Agency. King’s initial entrance into North Korea was during a tour of the Joint Security Area (JSA) between North and South Korea.

“The relevant organ of the DPRK decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the U.S. Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK, under the law of the Republic,” the announcement stated.

The Pentagon expressed gratitude to the governments of both Sweden and China for their roles in the release process. Pentagon press secretary Brig. General Pat Ryder commented, “We appreciate the hard work of personnel in the Army, United States Forces Korea, and across the Department of Defense to bring Private King home.”

The Swedish embassy’s spokesperson, David Lunderquist, confirmed Sweden’s involvement in ensuring King’s release. China, on the other hand, played a limited role, chiefly assisting in King’s transition out of North Korea, according to U.S. officials.

READ MORE: North Korea breaks silence on detained U.S. soldier

According to CNN, Jonathan Franks, a spokesperson for King’s mother, Claudine Gates, conveyed her heartfelt thanks to the U.S. Army and its interagency partners. He indicated that King’s mother would be “forever grateful” for the joint efforts to secure her son’s release from North Korea.

A senior administration official revealed that King is currently in “good health and good spirits.” When asked about any concessions made to North Korea for the transfer, officials firmly denied the existence of any concession deals.

U.S. military records indicate that King had “willfully and without authorization” entered North Korea in July and was considered AWOL by the military. King’s entrance into North Korea followed shortly after he had been released from detention in South Korea, related to an incident in Seoul.

While discussions and speculations about his actions and potential consequences continue, officials have stated that the primary focus will be on King’s health and reintegration, according to CNN.

“We’ll address any administrative actions after the reintegration process,” one official explained.

North Korea, on the other hand, alleged that King intruded because of dissatisfaction with the U.S. Army and society. However, North Korea’s claims have not yet been verified.

This news article was partially created with the assistance of artificial intelligence and edited and fact-checked by a human editor.