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US soldier detained in North Korea returns to American custody

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A United States soldier who had been detained in North Korea after crossing into the reclusive nation’s territory two months ago is now safely back in American custody, according to US officials. The return of Travis King follows a series of diplomatic efforts and negotiations.

The news was first reported by The Associated Press, citing two unnamed US officials, who confirmed King’s return to American custody. This announcement came just hours after North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced that authorities had completed their questioning of Travis King.

The US officials revealed that Travis King was transferred to US custody in China, marking the culmination of a lengthy process aimed at securing his release.

KCNA had earlier reported that King had confessed to illegally entering North Korea, citing his reasons as harboring “ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” within the US Army.

Following an investigation, the “relevant organ of the DPRK decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the US Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK,” the news agency reported, using the formal name for North Korea.

Travis King’s journey into North Korea occurred in July while he was on a tour of the southern side of an inter-Korean truce village. He had been serving a nearly two-month sentence in a South Korean prison for assault before his release on July 10. At that time, he was scheduled to return home to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he potentially faced additional military discipline and discharge.

However, King left the airport before boarding his plane, and the circumstances of his hours before joining the tour in the border village of Panmunjom, where he crossed the border, remain unclear.

Reporting from the White House, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett highlighted that the timing of King’s release was the result of “months-long work” by the United Nations and Sweden, with Sweden playing a pivotal role in negotiations due to the absence of formal US-North Korea relations.

Halkett emphasized that the primary focus of the US military now is ensuring King’s well-being and providing him with the necessary support.

The border between South and North Korea is highly fortified, but at the Joint Security Area, the frontier is marked by only a low concrete divider, making it relatively easy to cross despite the presence of soldiers on both sides.

Travis King’s border crossing occurred during a period of strained relations between South and North Korea, with diplomacy stalled, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un advocating for increased weapons development, including tactical nuclear warheads. In response, Seoul and Washington had intensified their defense cooperation, including joint military exercises involving advanced stealth jets and US strategic assets.

The safe return of Travis King to American custody represents a significant diplomatic success and alleviates concerns regarding his well-being in North Korea. Further details about his return and any potential future actions remain to be seen as the situation develops.

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