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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

What we know about the US soldier who fled to North Korea

About 20 Americans have been detained by North Korea since the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, including the American soldier who crossed the border at the truce village on Tuesday to help forge the armistice. Washington has never had an easy way to win him back.
The two countries do not have direct diplomatic ties and have been adversaries for decades. Pyongyang often uses detained Americans – the last case was about five years ago – as political pawns and seeks the maximum concessions for their release.
Who is the American soldier detained in North Korea?
The Army identified him as Private 2nd Class Travis King, 23, a Wisconsin cavalry scout who had been in the Army since January 2021. He had been jailed for nearly two months in South Korea for assault and was ready to fly to Texas. , where he faced expulsion from the army. But instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the Joint Security Area in the truce town of Panmunjom. That’s the only place on the peninsula where US and North Korean military personnel can stand face to face on their respective sides of the border: a concrete slab as tall as a cigarette lighter.
A person on the tour said the man laughed and ran between some buildings that straddle the border. King’s mother, Claudine Gates, told ABC News that she spoke to her son a few days ago when he told her that she was going back to Fort Bliss in Texas and that she couldn’t imagine her son would cross into Korea. from North.
Has this happened before?
This type of crossover is rare. Many of the other Americans detained in North Korea had already been in the country as part of a tour for some kind of work assignment. Almost all of the unauthorized crossings have started in China, which shares a long border with North Korea that is far less patrolled than the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone, where hundreds of thousands of soldiers are positioned on either side of a wire barricade. barbed wire. The most similar incident was nearly 60 years ago when then-Army Sergeant Charles Jenkins said he drank about 10 beers and fled his post in 1965 to cross into North Korea so he wouldn’t have to serve in the Vietnam War. He was in North Korea for about 40 years and soon after crossing over, he realized he had made a terrible mistake, according to his 2017 New York Times obituary.
Who else from the US has been arrested?
They include devout Christians who went there for what they saw as humanitarian reasons, college students on tours, a couple of reporters on a story and some people described by relatives as troubled. North Korea held US citizen Bruce Byron Lowrance for about a month in 2018, charging him with illegal entry from China.
On the other hand, thousands of Americans have been in North Korea without incident on trips where caregivers keep a close eye on them and limit where they can go. The country is now off-limits to Americans unless a high-level permit is granted, with the State Department telling citizens not to go there “due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of American citizens”.
What happens in detention?
The Americans have been held in places ranging from decrepit shacks to hotel rooms. They are usually interrogated for hours and brought to their mental breaking points. Kenneth Bae, an American missionary, was arrested in November 2012 in the northeastern city of Rason and sentenced to 15 years in a forced labor camp for what the North Koreans called plans to overthrow the regime. He was forced to break rocks and dig for coal. His detention of some two years was the longest for an American. Jeffrey Fowle, a tourist detained for about six months for leaving a Bible at a sailors’ club in 2014, was held in guest houses. Otto Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student who was on a group tour in January 2016, was detained by North Korean authorities and charged with attempting to steal a propaganda poster. He was initially sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, but he was returned to the US in June 2017 in a comatose state: brain dead, blind and deaf. He died days later.
How are they released?
North Korea often holds a show trial for foreigners, arresting them and sentencing them to several years of hard labor. But most of the Americans he has detained have been in custody for a year or less. The state has sought to send high-level US envoys, including former President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, to get the captives out of the country, typically allowing for releases that score points at home for their leader.
What happens to King now?
The current halt comes after nearly all Western diplomats left the country due to the pandemic, leaving the US with few partners on the ground. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang has acted on behalf of US interests before, but now appears to be understaffed. The United States has sometimes used a clandestine channel through North Korea’s mission to the United Nations, but Pyongyang this year turned down offers from the Biden administration to speak, making King’s situation more problematic than others. previous arrests.

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