Seoul, South Korea — North Korea said Wednesday it would expel a U.S. soldier who entered the country across the heavily armed border between the Koreas in July.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said authorities had completed their questioning of Pvt. Travis King. It did not say when or where officials plan to deport him.
King, who had served in South Korea, sprinted through a border village into North Korea on July 18 during a civilian tour, becoming the first American in nearly five years to be confirmed to have been detained in the North.
When King crossed the border, he was headed to Fort Bliss, Texas, after being released from a South Korean prison on an assault conviction.
On Wednesday, the state-run news agency said King had confessed to entering the North illegally because he harbored “aversion to inhumane mistreatment and racial discrimination” within the U.S. military and was “disillusioned with unequal U.S. society.”
Similar comments have been attributed to King before and it is impossible to verify their authenticity.
“The relevant body of the DPRK has decided to expel Travis King, a US Army soldier who illegally entered the territory of the DPRK, in accordance with the law of the republic,” KCNA said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name. the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
After weeks of silence, North Korea confirmed in August that it had arrested King and questioned the circumstances of his border crossing.
At the time, North Korean state media made similar claims about King’s alleged frustration with the U.S. military and American society, and also said he had expressed a willingness to seek refuge in North Korea or a third country.
In an interview with The Associated Press last month, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said her son had “so many reasons” to want to come home.
“I just can’t imagine him ever wanting to just stay in Korea when he has family in America. He has so many reasons to come home,” she said.
The 23-year-old King was among about 28,000 US troops stationed in South Korea to deter possible aggression by North Korea. U.S. officials had expressed concern about King’s well-being, citing the North’s harsh treatment of some American detainees in the past.
U.S. officials said King has been declared AWOL, which can be punishable by time in prison, loss of pay or dishonorable discharge. The severity depends on the length of the absence and whether the soldier was arrested or returned on his own initiative.
Unauthorized crossings across Korea’s heavily fortified border are extremely rare. The few Americans who have come to North Korea in the past include soldiers, missionaries, human rights activists or simply those curious about one of the world’s most insular societies.